UN experts alarmed by death sentence imposed on rapper and songwriter, Toomaj Salehi: Iran


UN experts* today demanded the immediate release of rapper and songwriter Toomaj Salehi and urged Iranian authorities to reverse the decision to sentence him to death.

“Criticism of government policy, including through artistic expression is protected under the rights to freedom of expression and the right to take part in cultural life. It must not be criminalised,” the experts said. “Art must be allowed to criticise, to provoke, to push the boundaries in any society.”

“We are alarmed by the imposition of the death sentence and the alleged ill-treatment of Mr. Salehi which appears to be related solely to the exercise of his right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity,” the experts said.

“As harsh Mr. Salehi’s songs are to the government, they are a manifestation of artistic freedom and cultural rights,” they said.

Salehi was initially sentenced to six years in prison for his role in the 2022 Mahsa Amini protests but was released after Iran’s Supreme Court ruled that it had identified flaws in the original sentence. However, the artist was detained again on 30 November 2023 for expressing his opinion on the Iranian government and revealing that he was tortured and placed in solitary confinement for 252 days following his arrest in October 2022. Two weeks after Salehi made a video revealing these details, he was re-arrested and taken to Dastgerd Prison in Isfahan. He has been charged for “propaganda against the state” and recently sentenced to death.

Toomaj Saleh’s harsh sentencing takes place against a backdrop of severe restriction on artistic freedom and other forms of expression in the country. “We have received allegations that it is increasingly common for artists, activists and journalists to be arrested and detained on charges such as ‘publishing false news’ or ‘propaganda against the state’,” the experts said.

“We are very worried at the reported criminalisation of the legitimate exercise of artistic expression through the imposition of a range of dubious charges,” they said. “Executions following unfair trials constitute an arbitrary deprivation of life.”

They called on Iran to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. Under international law, the death penalty can only be imposed and enforced for offences that meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’, meaning in cases which involve intentional killing, and following a legal process that gives all possible safeguards to ensure fair trial.

“All individuals have the right to participate in varied information exchanges, to contribute to artistic expression, and to take part in cultural life and in the development of their society, including through political debate and expression of opinion and dissent, without fear of imprisonment, torture, reprisals or even execution,” the experts said.

They have raised the case of Toomaj Salehi with Iranian authorities at various occasions since his arrest in 2022.

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