Rapper Toumaj Salehi, Freedom or Life

Portrait – Voices are being raised in France and around the world in support of the 33-year-old Iranian artist who was sentenced to death on April 24 after being one of the “Women, Life, Freedom” spokespeople.

“Who is responsible for the pain and the blood? / Wherever you go money is your flag / (…) You are all corrupt”. Rapper Toumaj Salehi's lyrics are a flurry of arrows against the Iranian regime. On April 24, these words, taken from his most popular song Surak Moosh, but all his other rap pamphlets addressed to the authorities of the Islamic Republic, earned the artist a death sentence. A sentence worthy of representing this 33-year-old Iranian, who has become the movement's spokesperson, is “Woman, life, freedom“.

A wave of protests was sparked after the death of Mahza Amini – a Kurd who died at the hands of the moral police for wearing an Islamic headscarf wrongly – and tens of thousands of people, including nine others, were arrested for their opposition to the regime. According to non-governmental organizations, the death penalty was imposed. Doumaj Salehi, 33, is he the tenth? The Isfahan Judicial Commission found him guilty “Corruption on Earth”, A very serious charge, as well as spreading “available on the Internet”, of “Anti-Establishment Propaganda” and incentives “to commit acts of violence”. However, his fate was not completely sealed. As he expressed remorse, his sentence could be commuted to life imprisonment. One of his lawyers, Amir Raisian, said he intended to appeal.

A bloody struggle

This judgment is the epitome of judicial ruthlessness. Doomaj, who hails from the Bakhtiari tribe in the country's west, was imbued with protest sentiments from childhood. His father was imprisoned for 8 years for opposing the regime. His mother died of cancer when he was 12 years old. His family's poverty has been accompanied by social decline, especially in the Isfahan area, where residents have suffered from the war against neighboring Iraq. As a teenager, Doomaj studied mechanical engineering and joined his father's workshop on the outskirts of Isfahan, where he forged metal parts.

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At the same time, the young scholar started writing verses, poetry or rap. At the age of 26, he began his career as a rapper in earnest. In the land of mullahs where contemporary music is considered “Satanic” And while arrests of singers were common, rapping was an act of rebellion. Toomaj doubles down on this challenge with new, expressive texts. In Persian, he describes political oppression, religious pressure, and official corruption in direct, sometimes crude terms. “You have a habit of being afraid. He refers to the strict Islam imposed by the mullahs, Bow until your stomach is full of gas. On YouTube, Spotify and SoundCloud, young people bypass VPN censorship and listen to it.

In 2021, a song gets her fame. In Surak Moosh, indeed “mouse hole”, Doomaj calls him “Head of the Islamic Republic” And vented his anger at the crackdown on protests (against fuel price hikes in 2019 and 2020). They caused 1,500 deaths, according to an investigation by Reuters. “Your horizon is full of blood and rage / The corpses of old, young and children / All your past is dark / The government has taken the light from your eyes.” To the rapper, those who aren't outraged are complicit. “There is no blank vote. There is no neutrality in war. He sings. “They are taking young lives if you mind your own business […]You are a traitor.

Mouse hole

While mobilized rappers live in exile, Toumaj Salehi, “World's Bravest Rapper”is known as times, Only that remains. Many people love him because he is the voice of the street people. He promised to protect them.testifying France 24 Justina is a friend of the rapper who sang the song “Beggar” As of July 2022, he lives in Sweden. “Thumaj says he wants to give courage through his songs. And he lives up to his promise.confirms with Picaro Omit, A 33-year-old Iranian. Young man who supports women in Iran is crazyNadereh*, 21, lives in Guilan province and is one of the women who has been out on the street without a veil for months. “Many singers did nothing during the protest. Doomage is very brave. While he had his audience, his admirers, he was not compelled to protest.

His clips are as vivid as his words. At the falls, a man in black, with a hidden face, embodied the reign. In front of him, a white-clad singer insults corruption. Under a title referring to the famous poet Hafiz, whose work in the 14th century is associated with a divination ritual now codified in Iranian culture. “While mobilizing classical poetic and literary traditions, Toumaj becomes a spokesperson for working-class neighborhoods”Franco-Iranian sociologist Azadeh Gian explains. “He attacks reformers as much as conservatives. His message: whether you're one or the other, hide in the “mouse holes” because society will soon throw you out.” In September 2021, Toumaj was arrested for the first time and later released on bail.

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International support

In October 2022, many cities in Iran echo with cries “Woman, Life, Freedom” After Mahza Amini's death, he was arrested again. The artist, who later had 500,000 followers on Instagram and 380,000 followers on Twitter, was particularly criticized for an interview with Canadian media where he said he wanted to. “Agents of that country have no right to rape or sexually assault you with moral police who can't abduct you in the middle of the street.”.

A few weeks after his arrest, Iranian media released a video of him sitting on the ground with his eyes closed. The rapper admits he regrets his comments against the Iranian regime. For his supporters, these false confessions are no doubt threatening. In fact: when he was released on bail almost a year later, the artist immediately shot a video and told his fans about the conditions of his detention. “They hit me in the face and when I raised my hands to protect my face, they broke my fingers”, he says to the camera, his face thin. However, he ends with a message of hope. “I hope better days will come. I think we can build a beautiful Iran together.. Two weeks later, Doumaj was arrested again, this time “lies” against authority.

Since April 27, the young Iranian has been in complete isolation. According to his relatives, he lost all telephone contact, a right usually granted to political prisoners once a week. Officials cited excessive media coverage of his conviction.

After his death sentence, many voices around the world came to the singer's defense. In France, the Quai d'Orsay condemned it “seriously” This court decision “This is in addition to the many unjustified death sentences and executions in Iran related to the 2022 autumn protests.”. In a collaborative paper published in The the world , artists, writers and human rights activists called for pressure on Emmanuel Macron. In the United States, White House National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan condemned the conviction of an artist. “The Voice amplifies the aspirations of the Iranian people and all those silenced by the regime.”

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