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September 15 2021

Policy Briefs

Dissident Rapper Who Defied Regime Arrested in Iran

Who Toomaj Salehi is and Why he Was Arrested: 

Toomaj Salehi is an Iranian dissident rapper, originally from Isfahan, who was arrested on Monday, September 13, 2021, by Iranian authorities. The official charges for his arrest are unknown, though many suspect it is due to the highly dissident nature of his work. He has fiercely condemned the Iranian regime, and called on fellow Iranians to overthrow it, saying that the “world is in [their] hands.”  On September 13th, four police cars with 12 officers came to his residence, raided his home and took Salehi to an unknown location. Salehi’s music is very specific in its criticism of the Iranian government, targeting issues such as Iran’s 25-year agreement with China, widespread corruption, economic failure, and the reluctance of Western journalists to advocate for the Iranian people. He has widespread support on social media, which has mobilized in mass calls for his release. 

Salehi had long-held suspicions that he would be targeted by the regime, and on September 11th, wrote, “…I throw the phone away because they probably have it through this location, do not worry, I will not let them arrest me because we are dealing with them, I will sort out a secure phone in a few days…”. Unfortunately, the IRGC was able to track and arrest Salehi, regardless. 

What Makes Salehi Unique: 

Salehi is unique in both his bravery, and in the scope of his criticisms of the regime. Rather than simply condemning the Islamic regime, Salehi is equally critical of the Islamic Republic’s apologists, what many call the “Iran lobby”, including organizations such as the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), for their silence on and therefore complicity in human rights violations in Iran. His supporters argue that Salehi is distinctive in his devotion to human rights, and while other artists often sought wealth and fame, Toomaj Salehi performed exclusively to support freedom in Iran. 

Salehi’s Music: 

Salehi’s music consists mainly of protest rap songs in which he denounces the corrupt and inhumane policies of the Islamic Republic. More specifically, Salehi’s content addresses topics such as labor strikes, unjustified incarcerations and executions, and the regime’s 25-year economic deal with China. Some of his most notable songs are “Normal Life,””Turkmenchay,” “Pomegranate,” and “Mouse Hole.” It is widely believed that “Mouse Hole,” one of his latest songs, is the principal reason for Salehi’s arrest. In this rap, he addresses all the foreign-based lobbyists and apologists of the current regime in Iran. In this song, he says that the Iranian people will never forget who wronged and betrayed them by siding with the regime during the oppression era and that those who are silent on the Iranian people’s suffering are equally as guilty as the regime.

Why His Arrest is Worrisome: 

Toomaj Salehi’s raps and music videos are widely acclaimed by Iranian social media users. In addition, he found an engaging outlet to peacefully protest the current regime and share his frustration with his compatriots and the rest of the world. Salehi’s arrest is worrisome because it seems to have several outcomes: not only was it an attempt by the regime to silence Salehi, but it was also an attempt at crushing any hope he may have sparked among other Iranians, but also an attempt at deterring any Iranians artists from follow in Salehi’s footsteps.

What Others are Saying About His Arrest:

Although Toomaj Salehi was only arrested a day ago, his extensive fanbase in Iran did not take this injustice lightly, many of them expressing their disbelief and anger on Twitter. Hichkas, a well-known rapper, for example, shared the news of Salehi’s arrest by the regime, praised him for defying the Islamic Republic but also asked social media to be Salehi’s voice, just like he has been theirs exposing all the suffering Iranians have gone through under the Islamic Republic’s rule. Many other people on twitter are calling on Human Right organizations or activists to be the voice of Toomaj Salehi. The prevalent hashtags include #توماج_صالحی #ToomajSalehi, and #FreeToomaj.