Family fears that Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj will be charged with a crime punishable by death | UKTN news

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The family of one Iranian dissident rapper fears for his life and says the regime is trying to charge him with a crime punishable by death.

Toomaj Salehi, 32, has been heavily critical of the Islamic Republic with his lyrics and was arrested last month amid the country’s ongoing protests and violent repression. The underground rapper, known by his first name, also actively supported the protests in Iran, releasing music, sending messages of support and even appearing on the streets himself.

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Toomaj’s cousin, Azadeh Babadi, who lives in London, told UKTN News she believes the rapper will not receive a fair trial.

“They denied him a lawyer of his choice and instead assigned him a regime-appointed lawyer,” she said.

Babadi said the family believes the judiciary intends to charge Toomaj with a mohareb – meaning someone is “waging war against God”. These are charges that, under Iranian Islamic Sharia law, lead to a death sentence and subsequent execution.

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Iran’s regime has a long history of accusing dissidents of being “moharebs,” said Toronto lawyer and human rights activist Kaveh Shahrooz.

“Such a charge, and the fact that it carries the death penalty, is difficult for many Westerners to understand because it seems so medieval,” Shahrooz said.

Students from Sharif University of Technology attend a protest following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police in Tehran on October 7. This photo was taken by a person not employed by the UK Time News and obtained outside of Iran. (The UK Time News)

Babadi said the regime is trying to make up a story to support such a sentence. She said they are trying to fabricate evidence that Toomaj used money to buy weapons to support popular protests in Iran.

However, in an interview with UKTN News last month, Toomaj claimed that the people must continue to resist peacefully until they reach millions.

The Islamic Republic has been gripped by nationwide protests since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on September 16 in the custody of the so-called morality police.

At least six people involved in the protests have been sentenced to death on charges of Moharebeh, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) said in a statement press release Tuesday. Last week, Amnesty International reported that Iranian authorities are seeking the death penalty for at least 21 people involved in the protests, including Saman Seydi, a Kurdish rapper.

While these are official death sentences, the Islamic Republic previously cracked down on anti-regime demonstrators in 2019, with 1,500 in less than two weeks in what is now known as ‘Bloody November’.

LOOK | Toomaj on why the protest in Iran will continue to grow:

The Iranian protest movement will only grow, says Toomaj

Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi talks to UKTN News about what’s happening in his country.

Rapper shot to death under torture, family say

According to the UNHCR, hundreds of people have died as a result of a harsh response by the authorities to the current protest. That figure includes at least 40 children. According to multiple reportsmore than 15,000 people have been arrested, including artists and opinion leaders who have expressed support for the protests.

Many assume that the number of deaths and arrests is much higher given the challenges of getting information out of Iran. The crackdown led to a special and historic session of the United Nations, where the Human Rights Council on Thursday voted to establish a new research mission to investigate reported human rights violations in Iran related to the protests.

Toomaj’s family said the rapper was severely tortured while kidnapped and later held in a prison in Isfahan. They say they have information that his foot was broken from a gunshot wound. They say reports suggest his foot is now in a cast.

For more than three weeks, the rapper’s father has been coming to jail hoping to see or talk to him. Babadi said the family believes that Toomaj’s physical condition must be so bad that authorities are waiting and not allowing anyone access to him.

She said regime agents continue to harass and pressure the family in Iran to stop them asking questions and coming to jail. On several occasions, Babadi said authorities told lies to the family to distract or “tired” them.

After his arrest, Toomaj continues to inspire protesters

Iranian rapper Gdaal, who is from Tehran and now lives in Toronto, said Toomaj contacted him amid the current protests.

“He is the real rebel. He is a real revolutionary. People like Toomaj made me think I could go back to Iran. He inspired me to become an activist. My whole life is now devoted to this. Nothing else does matter more. I just want Toomaj’s goal to become a reality,” he said.

Tensions between supporters of the Iranian regime and those who want change are being felt in Toronto’s Iranian diaspora, as seen in this photo taken earlier this month. (Robert Krbavac/Radio Canada)

Toomaj told UKTN News last month that he was not concerned for his own life or safety, but that if he were arrested it would dampen the spirits of young protesters.

But so far there is no sign of that. On social media, Iranians use the hashtag #Tomaj_Salehi, in Persian, to raise awareness of his arrest. Many are tweeting his songs, lyrics and parts of his YouTube videos to keep alive his message of fighting for regime change and freedom.

Los Angeles-based Iranian rapper Erfan Paydar said that Toomaj is one of the most important figures in this movement. “Unlike others… he showed his face. He was on foot in Iran. The world needs to know that he walked. He believed in action. He led by example,” Paydar told UKTN News.

Toomaj’s Twitter, Instagram and Telegram accounts are managed by his team as they continue to spread messages and updates about protests in cities across the country.

LOOK | UKTN’s Nahayat Tizhoosh on Toomaj’s arrest:

When the Islamic Republic’s state broadcaster IRIB posted a video on social media on November 2 in which Toomaj reportedly expressed regret for the comments he had made, Iranians reportedly refused to share the video, saying they did not want to participate in the regime’s propaganda.

Protests in several cities, including Toronto, Los Angeles and Berlin, have sought to publicize Toomaj’s case in hopes of seeing him released.

Iranian rappers appeal to the rap industry in USA, Canada

Many Iranians are calling on the rap community, especially in the US, to raise awareness of Toomaj’s case.

“I would like to see the international rap community really get behind the movement in Iran, especially someone like Toomaj,” said Erfan.

People in black hold a photo of the rapper Toomaj.
In this Nov. 7 Instagram photo, people in Toronto are calling for Toomaj’s release during a protest organized by the Iran Lovers group. (PoeticJustice4Iran/Instagram)

While many celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, have posted on social media about protests in Iran, Gdaal said he is disappointed and frustrated that the rap community has not done the same for Toomaj.

“I don’t know why the rap community doesn’t. If Jay-Z talks about Toomaj, if Lil Wayne talks about Toomaj, that would be great,” he said.

“I don’t know why they don’t say anything about him… The rap industry in the US is like heaven, if you compare it to Iran. The day you’re famous, you’re rich. The day you’re famous in Iran, you are in danger.”

He said he was also surprised Canadian rappers like Drake or The Weeknd haven’t said anything publicly about Toomaj. He says they are both from Toronto and are probably aware of what is happening in Iran given the large diaspora in the city.

An artist in Iran, whom UKTN News has promised not to identify given the ongoing violence against dissidents, also said he would like to see rappers in the West support Toomaj.

“I would like real rappers to support Toomaj, because he is a real rapper and he is protesting against the system in a country that is among the most criminal in history. It is a sign of his courage and his fight for freedom,” said he.

“And this is the sign of a true rapper – that he always fights against injustice and stands up for his people.”

He says he wants American rapper NF to be the voice of Toomaj. “He’s one of the few rappers that Toomaj likes and hoped to collaborate with someday,” he said.

Young people wear shirts with the image of the rapper Toomaj and hold signs.  They are outside at a protest.
In another Instagram photo from Nov. 7, provided by Iran Lovers, protesters in Toronto gather in support of Toomaj. (PoeticJustice4Iran/Instagram)

Iranians hope for Toomaj’s release

By Thursday evening, nearly 60,000 people had signed a online petition started by Toomaj’s family and supporters, calling for the rapper’s release. The petition will be handed over to Javaid Rehman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The artist in Iran told UKTN News that while he is concerned about many scenarios, his main concern is that the protesters will lose hope or become discouraged and not continue their fight against the regime.

LOOK | Toomaj says we only see a small piece of what is happening in Iran:

Videos coming from Iran give a “small picture” of what is happening, says Toomaj

Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi talks to UKTN News about what’s happening in his country.

He said Toomaj would like the protesters to continue no matter what happens to him.

“I see myself as a person among the protesters. That’s it. I don’t see myself as anything else…. When I go to protests, I always worry that if I get arrested, some of the protesters will lose hope will lose. Or will be sad,” Toomaj told UKTN News in October.

“We have no time for sorrow. If my loved ones, on either side of me, are killed, I must get angry, I must pursue justice.”

Gdaal said he wants Toomaj and other political prisoners imprisoned by the Islamic Republic to see a free Iran.

“This dictatorship, all the suffering we’ve endured. It made us give up. We all thought the Islamic Republic was the big bad wolf that will never go away. But now that I’ve seen people like Toomaj fight, I hope there’s an end to the regime.”

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