UN experts have called on Iran’s authorities to immediately release rapper and songwriter Toomaj Salehi (pictured), who has been sentenced to death over his role in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests.

Criticism of government policy, including through artistic expression, is protected under the rights to freedom of expression and the right to take part in cultural life. It must not be criminalized. Art must be allowed to criticise, to provoke, to push the boundaries in any society.

We are alarmed by the imposition of the death sentence and the alleged ill-treatment of Mr. Salehi which appears to be related solely to the exercise of his right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity.

As harsh Mr. Salehi’s songs are to the government, they are a manifestation of artistic freedom and cultural rights.

ORIGINAL ENTRY, APRIL 24: Iran’s authorities have condemned rapper Toomaj Salehi , a leading figure in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests, to death for “spreading corruption on earth”.

A Revolutionary Court in Isfahan issued the verdict, Salehi’s lawyer Amir Raisian told the reformist newspaper Sharq on Wednesday.

Salehi was arrested in October 2022, weeks after the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini — detained and reportedly beaten by “morality police” — sparked the nationwide protests. The rapper’s songs of social protest were featured in the demonstrations.

He was sentenced in 2023 to six years and three months in prison, but avoided a death sentence at that point because of a Supreme Court ruling.

But his lawyer Raisian told Sharq, “Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of Isfahan in an unprecedented move, did not enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling…and sentenced Salehi to the harshest punishment.”

Raisian said that “we will definitely appeal this verdict” within the 20 days allowed.

The rapper was released on bail last November 18, after 252 days in prison. However, he was returned to prison 12 days later, following the release of a viral video in which he detailed 12 hours of abuse by almost 60 agents during his initial detention, leaving him unconscious. Salehi’s social media account reported that he suffered “severe damage to the eyes and face” when he was again seized.

In October, Salehi received the 2023 Arts Freedom of Expression Award from Index on Censorship.