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A popular Iranian rapper named Toomaj Salehi, whose lyrics boldly support the anti-government protests, faces a possible death sentence after the Islamic Republic charged him with “corruption on Earth.”
The 31-year-old rapper has been accused of spreading propaganda and inciting violence by a religious government that has killed hundreds of its own people in cold blood, according to the BBC. A petition on change.org seeking his freedom has so far garnered over 347,000 signatures.
To the Iranian government, Toomaj, who was arrested on October 30, represents a threat to their totalitarian power. Iran accused him of spreading lies that have caused “major damages.” But to Iranian human rights protesters, he’s a poetic prophet. At least 15 other people face a death sentence for speaking out against the regime.
He’s “basically like the Tupac of Iran right now because his lyrics are straight up heartfelt, no bullshit, no gimmicks, no talking about materialistic things,” said Nima, an Iranian-American rapper, music video director and producer living in Oklahoma.
“He raps about the pain of the people,” Nima added.
In an exclusive interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Nima said the Iranian people consider Toomaj to be a major figure in what he calls a revolution. We have omitted Nima’s last name to protect his relatives who are still living in Iran’s capital city, Tehran.
“I would call it a revolution. That’s what’s happening because people are so fed up with this government. The final straw was the death of Mahsa Amini,” Nima said.
Iranian government kills its own people to maintain power
Ever since hardline religious clerics rose to power in Iran’s 1979 revolution, the rights of women have been severely restricted, and freedom of speech is nearly non-existent. A series of protests against the regime have taken place over the last few decades, but none have been as long-lasting or widespread as the current protests gripping the nation.
The death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody in September gave rise to the largest protests Iran has seen in modern history. Amini was apprehended by the notorious “morality” police after being accused of improperly wearing a hijab.
Responding to the protests with blatant attacks against unarmed civilians, Iran’s government has killed over 451 people, including hundreds of women and dozens of children.
Meanwhile, high-profile figures, such as Iranian celebrities, Football players, and others have been detained and punished for speaking out against the human rights violations.
Rapper Toomaj Salehi’s future remains unclear after a year of unapologetically releasing music that condemns the deadly Islamic Republic.
Nima, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, has been following Iranian rappers since 2005. In October 2021 he reached out to Toomaj on social media to connect with the rising star.
“I was like, this guy has courage to say these words, knowing he could be arrested at any moment. Right then and there I knew this guy was serious, he really had a good flow,” Nima told The Black Wall Street Times.
Other Iranian musicians have raised awareness about the threat of execution hanging over Toomaj’s head.
Rapper Hichkas tweeted that the Islamic Republic was “trying to kill Toomaj”, while singer Mehdi Yarrahi wrote: “With baseless charges, they want to teach a lesson to the others who do not fear death.”
#ToomajSalehi, Iranian rapper, is in grave danger as the Islamic Republic is trying to push for life threatening accusations which usually result in execution.
Be Toomaj’s voice.
— Hichkas (@HichkasOfficial) November 26, 2022
“Terrorist” government ready to kill Toomaj Salehi
In an interview with CBS shortly before his detainment, Toomaj described how posting videos critical of the Islamic Republic was “hard, because you are making yourself a target for the regime forces”.
He also described how Iranians are living under a “horrific” regime, a “mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation… in order to keep its power, money and weapons”.
Despite the United Nations’ announcement of a fact-finding mission into human rights abuses, the Iranian government has declared it won’t cooperate with any investigations.
As far as Iranians across the diaspora are concerned, powerful countries like the U.S. should cut all ties with the regime, freeze all assets, and restrict Iranian lobbyists from moving freely in America.
“These people are walking free in New York, having meetings and going back their lobbyists for the Islamic Republic, and that needs to end,” Nima said. “That’s something the U.S. can do. It doesn’t have to be war. Just cut these people off.”
Last week, the U.S. imposed increased sanctions on key Iranian officials, CNN reported, but many are calling for more to be done.
Notably, before 1979, Iran was a stable nation with close ties to the U.S. The former Shah of Iran, who received a university education in the West, had modernized the country’s infrastructure and promoted fairness. That all changed when the religious clerics took over.
“They saw him as a foreigner. The people got misled by the clerics,” Nima said.
Currently, Iran acts as a major cause of terrorism through its funding and support of radical groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon.
But, Nima says, If Iranian protesters succeed in their revolution, Iran could become a stable country in an unstable region, a region where rappers like Toomaj Salehi won’t face execution for speaking out. Nima said he hopes for a day when he can travel back and forth to see family without the fear of not being able to return or the fear of retaliation.
“If people want peace in the Middle East, that’s the solution, a secular Iran,” Nima said.