“Someone’s crime was that his hair was falling in the wind. Someone’s fault was that he was brave and open.”
These songs could cost the life of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi. In any other country, he could have easily rapped about the day-to-day problems of his countrymen to no avail.
But since he lives in Iran, Salehi’s fate is completely different.
According to his uncle, the 32-year-old dissident underground rapper was violently arrested with two friends last Saturday and is now facing criminal charges that carry the death penalty, according to Iranian state media.
According to a high-ranking official of the United Nations, around 14,000 people, including journalists, activists, lawyers and teachers, have been arrested in Iran during the protests that have rocked the country since September.
The unrest began after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who died on September 16 after being arrested by the “morality police” and taken to a “re-education center” on charges of not wearing a hijab. right
Salehi’s uncle, Eghbal Eghbali, said in an interview with CNN: “I woke up at two in the morning with a phone call from Tumoj’s friend saying, ‘Our location has been revealed.'” “Since then we have been wondering what happened to Toomaj.”
Eghbali says that in the morning of the same day, through Salehi’s friends, he found out that about 50 people attacked his nephew’s house in Chahormahal and Bakhtiyari province, in the south-west of Iran.
The state news agency IRNA, citing the judicial authorities of Isfahan province, said that the rapper is accused of “propaganda activities against the government, cooperation with enemy governments and the creation of illegal groups with the aim of creating insecurity in the country.”
Salehi’s uncle said that his cousin is currently being held in Isfahan prison and he has information that he was tortured. Salehi is a resident of Shahin Shahr, about 20 kilometers north of Isfahan.
“We still don’t know anything about Toomai’s health condition. The family tried very hard to even hear his voice, but no one gave us information about Tumoj,” he said. “We don’t even know if Toomage and his friends are alive.”
Eghbali said Salehi’s friends, who were arrested with him over the weekend, boxing champion Muhammad Reza Nikraftar and kickboxer Najaf Abuali, have also not been heard from since.
Syed Mohammad Mousavi, the spokesman of the Isfahan regional police force, according to IRNA, said that the defendants played a key role in creating, calling and inciting riots in the Isfahan region and the city of Shahin Shahr.
After his arrest, the state-backed Young Journalists Club (YJC) released a short video of what Salehi was wearing blindfolded. It seems that Salehi was under pressure and expressed regret for his statement on social networks.
Uncle Salehi firmly said that the man in the video is not his cousin and added that the government has political goals in broadcasting this short clip. Eghbali also denies the government’s claims that his nephew escaped during detention.
“Absolutely not,” said Eghbali. “Because of where Toomoj lived or where we are in Chahormahal and Bakhtiyari region, we don’t really have a way to the border. This is a very bold claim. Anyone who knows the geography of Iran will not believe this claim.”
Since the start of nationwide protests that began in mid-September, Salehi, who was also arrested in September 2021, according to IRNA, has called on Iranians to protest against the government.
“None of us have blood of a different color,” Salehi wrote on Instagram. “Don’t forget our wonderful union and don’t let them create a divide between us in this bloody and sad sky.”
Salehi, who is from the Bakhtiari ethnic group, has been talking about the multi-ethnic structure of Iran for a long time and encourages the unity of Iranians of different ethnic groups.
“Stay with us, we have been by your side for years,” Salehi said in his song “Meidune Jang”, which is translated as “Battlefield”.
“It is not enough to be rebellious, we have revolutionary roots. Arab, Assyrian, Armenian, Turkmen, Mazandari, Sistani, Baluchi, Talishdo, Tatars, Azarians, Kurds, Gilakdo, Lordo, Persians and Koshkaido, we are the unity of the river: we are the sea.”
A few days before his arrest, Salehi posted videos of himself with protesters on the street on Instagram. Since then, his fans, Iranians in the diaspora, and musicians and activists have been calling for his release.
Erfan Paidar, an Iranian rapper, songwriter and activist, told CNN that “a lot of rappers came out and supported him.” “Toomaj’s bravery in protesting in the streets encouraged others to go out there and speak out, making people think, ‘If he’s willing to go out there and not be afraid, then we shouldn’t have to.’
Paydar said that Salehi recently shared a message with his trusted friends, which should be published if he is arrested. “You will proceed according to my operation. You are my confidant,” the message reads.
“The priority is in front of students and workers, you cover all protest calls, you do not support any party or group, do not write too much about prisoners so that their condition does not deteriorate and they do not speak out. Focus on offense, not defense.”
Security forces arrested several musicians and artists, including two other rappers who participated in the demonstration – Emad Gavidel from Rasht and Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin from Kermanshah.
Gavidel was released on bail and described in an Instagram post how he was tortured and had his teeth broken. According to Norwegian-based Kurdish human rights group Hengav, Yosin has been subjected to severe mental and physical torture while in custody and is accused of a crime that carries the death penalty in a sham court.
“Tumoj’s mother was a political prisoner,” Salehi’s uncle, who lives in Germany, told CNN. “She passed away a long time ago…if my sister was alive, she would be Tumoj’s voice. As I am the voice of Toomaj. Just like many of those on the street [in Iran] are Toomaj’s voice.”
Following Mahso Amini’s death in custody, protesters across Iran have united with the regime around a range of grievances. Meanwhile, Iranian authorities are stepping up efforts to quell the unrest. The state-run IRNA news agency reported last week that around 1,000 people in Tehran province were accused of involvement in the protests.
IRNA, relying on Ali Algosi Mehr, the chief prosecutor of Tehran region, said that the trial of the defendants will be publicly heard in the coming days.
Iranian media reported last week that the trial of several demonstrators had begun last week.