Opinion |  Rapper Toomaj Salehi Arrest Shows Iran's Crackdown on Dissent Fails

When anti-regime demonstrations began in September 2022, Salehi, like many other Iranians, found himself unable to sit on the sidelines. Despite the risk of going back to jail, he posted videos of his peaceful participation in the street protests of Shahin Shahr and recorded two songs highlighting the courage and suffering of the Iranian people. In essence, the artist is now living his art.

“We came to the streets like ghosts and became a nightmare for the government,” he raps in “Battlefield,” which was made during the height of the demonstrations. “We saw the light after this hell. Neither repression nor execution can stop us. We shouted and went forward. Call us the roaring fighter.” In the video for “Property,” he confronted the clerical establishment head-on, sat down before an anonymous official representing the Islamic republic and predicted his death by reading a coffee grinder.

Knowing she would be arrested again, Salehi left her home in Shahin Shahr and, with the help of friends, reportedly moved from one safe house to the next. Not long after him catchan acknowledgment videos aired on state television. In it, he is blindfolded, clearly under duress and with bruises on his face. He claimed he had “made a mistake.” But his family and fans say he was tortured, as is the case when such videos are recorded by Iranian intelligence services. They believe he needs urgent medical care.

As protests grip the world's attention, European lawmakers vote for Iranian political prisoners and highlighted their case. A member of the German Parliament, Ye-One Rhie, voted for Mr Salehi. According to Ms. Rhie, the rapper has since been accused of “insulting the leadership”, “propaganda against the regime”, “collaborating with a hostile government”, “inviting people to kill and disturb” and “corruption of the earth”. The latter charge, used against actual or perceived dissidents to quell opposition to the Islamic republic, can carry the death penalty.

Ms. Rhie said that Mr. Salehi is in solitary confinement and has had limited contact with his lawyer since his arrest. There has been no legal process into his case, he said, and a court date has not been announced. “However, if someone is convicted, we cannot expect a trial based on the rule of law but arbitrariness and terror,” he wrote in an email to me.