Iranian Rapper Sentenced to Death for "Waging War Against God"

A dissident rapper and one of the icons of Iran’s 2022 protests against the Islamic Republic, which began after the death of Mahsa Amini under morality police custody after her arrest for “improper hijab,” has been sentenced to death for “waging war against God.

A Revolutionary Court in the central city of Isfahan sentenced rapper Toomaj Salehi to death on charges of “spreading corruption on earth” and “Moharebeh,” which translates to “waging war against God” in Persian. These charges are considered to be the highest crimes in the Islamic Republic’s interpretation of Sharia law and are punishable by death.

Before the death sentence was handed to him, Salehi was sentenced to one year in prison and two years of having his passport annulled. He also had to participate in a behavioral management course for “propaganda against the system,” possibly referring to the songs he released criticizing the regime as well as photos and videos of him participating in the demonstrations against the Iranian government.

He was also sentenced to six years and three months in prison in July 2023 for "corruption on Earth.” However, Salehi was able to avoid a death sentence due to a ruling by the Iranian Supreme Court. The rapper was also released on bail in November of the same year after the Iranian Supreme Court responded to an appeal and found "flaws in the original sentence" before returning the case to a lower court for possible reexamination and retrial. 

The rapper endured 252 days in prison before he was released on bail in November. However, Salehi was imprisoned just 12 days later after he appeared in a video where he publicly detailed the torture he experienced during his imprisonment. In the clip, Salehi used his ordeal as the basis for his complaints against government officials and security forces. 

On December 14, Salehi’s social media account reported that he suffered "severe damage to the eyes and face" during his latest arrest by government forces, contradicting statements released by government officials and raising concerns about adhering to the law during the violent incident in the city of Babol.

Salehi has 20 days to appeal the death sentence ruled against him, and the Iranian judiciary has not fully confirmed the verdict. Nevertheless, his defense team said they would appeal the decision.

"Today, the verdict regarding Toomaj Salehi was sent. Unfortunately, the first branch of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court has issued a death sentence against him." Mostafa Nili, one of Salehi’s lawyers, said on April 24th regarding the ruling. "According to legal experts, this verdict presents significant legal inconsistencies, and we intend to file an appeal within the prescribed legal timeframe."

"Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of (the central city of) Isfahan, in an unprecedented move, did not enforce the Supreme Court's ruling .... and sentenced Salehi to the harshest punishment." Amir Raisian, one of Salehi’s lawyers, told Sharq. "We will definitely appeal this verdict."

The US Office of the Special Envoy for Iran condemned the death sentence against Salehi, calling it an example "of the regime’s brutal abuse of its own citizens, disregard for human rights, and fear of the democratic change the Iranian people seek."

Salehi gained fame for his protest songs, which criticized injustices committed by the Iranian regime and tackled social issues in Iran. After voicing his support for the Woman, Life, Freedom protests that erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, Salehi was arrested the next month as part of the Islamic Republic’s wider campaign to suppress dissent during the biggest challenge it faced against its authority since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

In October, Salehi received the 2023 Arts Freedom of Expression Award from the Index on Censorship, an organization dedicated to freedom of speech.

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