Iranian rapper Toumaj Salehi to face the death sentence over dissenting “speech-related charges”

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An Iranian court has issued a death sentence to the imprisoned popular rapper Toumaj Salehi on speech-related charges.

Imprisoned Iranian rapper Toumaj Salehi, known for his songs that have been critical of the Iranian regime, has been sentenced to death by an Iranian court, according to Human Rights Watch

The rapper was initially arrested on October 30 2020 for “speech-related charges” stemming from being a vocal critic of the government, amid protests following the death in morality police custody of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Jina Amini the previous month. 

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Authorities have held Salehi in solitary confinement and brought multiple charges against him including “corruption on earth,” a vague charge that can carry the death penalty, with the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reporting that government security forces beat the rapper while in custody.

On July 10, 2023, Branch 1 of Isfahan's Revolutionary Court decided that there was insufficient evidence to establish the corruption on earth charge against Salehi. As an alternative, Salehi was convicted under Article 286 of the Islamic Penal Code and sentenced to six years in prison.

Article 286 stipulates that committing crimes against national security or disrupting public order on a large scale can result in imprisonment for up to five years, or even a death sentence if it meets the threshold of “corruption on earth.”

In November 2023, Iran's Supreme Court annulled Salehi's six-year prison sentence concerning this case, referred the case back to the court of first instance, and granted him bail. However, Salehi was rearrested by Iranian security forces 12 days later.

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On April 18, the court held a new trial for Salehi, where he faced additional charges and was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death for the “corruption on earth” charge. His lawyer, Raeesian, stated that the ruling contained significant legal errors and contradicted the Supreme Court verdict, and they plan to appeal.

“Iran’s revolutionary court judges act like they are empowered to assault citizens’ basic rights and make a mockery of any existing legal safeguards,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Toumaj Salehi’s outrageous verdict is just the latest manifestation of Iran’s brutal justice system. He should be released immediately.”

Salehi wasn’t the only musician arrested during the protest either: a Kurdish-Iranian rapper, Saman Seyedi, known as “Yasin,” was sentenced to death on “enmity against the state” charges, including for alleged “weapon possession and conspiracy to threaten national security,” but the Supreme Court struck down the sentence.

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