CHRI – The arbitrary re-arrest of Toomaj Salehi, a musician and dissident rapper in Iran, after he publicly announced he was filing a lawsuit over being tortured while in state custody, demands strong condemnation from the international community. Artistic and freedom of speech advocates in particular should demand his permanent release, stated the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“The unlawful arrest, torture and now re-arrest of Toomaj reflects the harsh reality faced by artists and dissidents in Iran,” stated Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of CHRI.
“The authorities in Iran initially released Toomaj due to their inability to substantiate the bogus charges against him, but less than two weeks later they seized him again when it became clear that he would not remain silent,” he said.
“Toomaj embodies the voices in Iran that will not be silenced by a brutal and lawless state,” Ghaemi stressed. “The world must take note that it is not only Toomaj’s liberty that is in peril; his life is under threat.”
> CHRI urges the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Iran’s atrocities since the September 2022 protests to investigate the arrest of the rapper, who is known in Iran by his first name of Toomaj, along with his mistreatment in state custody and ongoing persecution.
> CHRI calls upon global artists, musicians, and advocates of freedom of speech, expression, and artistic liberty to issue public statements in solidarity with Toomaj and in support of artistic freedom in Iran.
> CHRI also calls upon UN and global leaders to demand Toomaj’s immediate and unconditional release.
A unified stance signifies that Toomaj’s efforts to expose severe rights violations in Iran are resonating globally and that the international artistic community stands in solidarity with him.
Re-Arrest Used to Suppress Toomaj’s Plans to Reveal State’s Brutal Torture
Before his recent re-arrest, Salehi had endured over a year in Iranian custody until Iran’s Supreme Court rejected a ruling that had sentenced him to over six years in prison, and he was released on bail on November 18, 2023 while his case was sent back to a lower court. However, less than two weeks later, on November 30, Toomaj was re-arrested in the city of Babol by plainclothes agents wielding “Kalashnikovs and handguns,” revealed a source familiar with his case to CHRI.
This re-arrest swiftly followed the online posting of a video by Toomaj, specifically at the 10:21 mark, where he detailed filing a lawsuit due to torture experienced while in state custody.
“Toomaj recounted a horrific incident during his initial arrest, enduring 12 hours of torture by nearly 60 agents, leaving him unconscious,” shared the source, who requested anonymity for safety reasons.
“Under brutal conditions, he suffered multiple strikes to his head and face, resulting in a broken leg and severe finger injuries. Despite these grave injuries, Toomaj endured solitary confinement for 20 days without any medical attention,” the source added. “He had just begun receiving medical treatment after being released following one year and 21 days, when he was violently re-apprehended.”
In the video, Toomaj also countered claims made by Isfahan Chief Justice Asadollah Jafari, propagated by the state-run Mizan website. Such content from judicial authorities aims to discredit defendants in the eyes of the public. Among Jafari’s disproven claims was his statement that Toomaj had not filed a lawsuit, a claim that was later shown to be false when proof of the lawsuit’s existence was shared online by Toomaj’s lawyer.
Toomaj was forcibly kept incommunicado and confined in solitary isolation after his re-arrest for several days, while authorities obstructed his family from officially seeking information about his whereabouts, revealed a source to CHRI. The Ministry of Intelligence seemed to be involved in orchestrating Toomaj’s arbitrary arrest in this instance, the source with knowledge of the case told CHRI.
“On December 4, after being relocated from an undisclosed place back to Dastgerd prison, he was finally permitted to contact his family,” stated his lawyer, Amir Raesian. “No court order has been issued in this case, but there has been a reinstatement and intensification of the temporary detention order related to his previous case,” he said.
Originally Arrested for Lyrics Criticizing State Policies
Popularly known as Toomaj, the 32-year-old was initially arbitrarily detained in Shahin Shahr, Isfahan Province, on October 30, 2022, after a video surfaced online showing him amidst a protest ignited by the killing of in state custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini. She had been arrested three days earlier for an alleged dress code violation.
Despite committing no crimes, Salehi endured months of interrogation in solitary confinement within a section controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at Dastgerd Prison in Isfahan province.
In August 2023, he received a 6.3-year prison sentence on the charge of “corruption on earth,” a catch-all national security accusation often used against dissidents and activists to suppress dissent—and one that can carry the death penalty. Toomaj’s alleged “offenses” were linked to the content of his music lyrics, wherein he scrutinized state policies, including ethnic discrimination, inadequate legal safeguards for child laborers, and his participation in a street protest.
“The Iranian government’s re-arrest of Toomaj for seeking justice for the torture he endured during his detainment reflects the Islamic Republic’s complete intolerance for any calls for accountability,” remarked Ghaemi.
“Failure to stand united in support of Toomaj not only exposes him to grave threats to his health and safety, it greenlights the Islamic Republic’s violent persecution of dissident artists,” he said.