Global Grassroots Groundswell Urgently Needed: Free Rebel Rapper Toomaj Salehi!
Revcom.us editors’ note: We received the following alert from the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now! (IEC).
Last week, a digital billboard calling to free 33-year-old rapper Toomaj Salehi appeared along a road about 20 miles outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Toomaj is an Iranian artist and activist, widely known by his first name and deeply loved for his brilliant lyrics and his death-defying spirit of resistance to oppression.
The appearance of this billboard coincided with a renewed urgent call by his family, friends, colleagues and fans for his immediate freedom.
Toomaj has been held in solitary confinement by the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) for over five months. During this time, he has sustained severe physical and mental torture and his health has seriously deteriorated. He is facing charges that can carry the death penalty for the religious offense of “corruption on earth.”
In reality, the regime is offended by Toomaj’s joining with, and calling for others to join and support, the “Woman, Life, Freedom” uprising in Iran sparked by the IRI’s September 16, 2022 murder of Mahsa (Jina) Amini for “improper hijab”—not fully covering her hair. The fascist theocrats hope to silence the most unrepentant voices of resistance in order to terrorize the courageous Iranian people and to bury this righteous uprising.
Months before his arrest, Toomaj and exiled female rapper Justina made an anti-compulsory-hijab, pro-rebellion video called “Shallagh” (“Whip” in English). After his arrest, the lyrics were translated into English by IEC Volunteers and a subtitled video was created by @ToomajInternationalPage. It was posted jointly and widely reposted.
Now Toomaj’s life is in serious danger.
Horrific Torture and Heroic Resistance
A press release highlighting two anonymous interviews with people close to Toomaj, was issued by the Center for Human Rights in Iran on April 6. It reveals the gruesome conditions of Toomaj’s arrest and months in isolation, as well as his continued refusal to capitulate.
These interviews indict the “holy” men of the Islamic Republic and their abject cruelty:
The accusations made against Toomaj by the prosecutor in Isfahan were very serious, especially since protesters had been executed for such accusations and lawyers said Toomaj could get the death penalty….
Toomaj’s right ankle was broken during severe torture. He was in a coma for several days. Toomaj’s fingers were also broken. Currently, due to the damage to his ankle, he still has difficulty walking. No action has been taken to provide treatment and follow up on his physical condition. On the other hand, due to the numerous blows to the left side of his face and eye, he also has visual problems.
An Exemplary Human Being and Artist
The interviews also highlight why people should come to the urgent defense of this people’s artist and freedom fighter, and embrace him as our own:
What truly sets Toomaj apart from others is his honesty. Personally, I was amazed to see someone like him, who sings and writes music so courageously, living in a strict society like Iran…. This courage and frankness are very evident in Toomaj’s work….
Toomaj always said that what people talk about should be reflected in art … and we as artists must be the voice of these people and their issues….
He said we must speak our minds clearly, especially in the rap genre.
According to Toomaj, the era of talking in a convoluted manner has passed. Toomaj always said that he was a defender of the oppressed and those who are discriminated against in our society, in his own words, “the voice of the voiceless.”
A Global Appeal to All Decent People
The @toomajofficial Instagram account (1.4 million followers) posted this appeal on April 7:
We invite all civil, and political activists, artists, athletes, and influential people to record a video of up to 1 minute with a request for the immediate and unconditional release of Toomaj Salehi and pointing out the unfair conditions of his detention and the physical and mental injuries inflicted on him. Join this campaign and invite 3 other Iranian or non-Iranian artists and activists to join this campaign and then put this video with the hashtag #FreeToomaj on your Instagram or Twitter page. Please tag Toomaj Salehi page (@toomajofficial) and also our page the Association of Women’s Life of Freedom (associazione_dvl).
Our world can certainly use more honesty, frankness and courage from many more people, including all activists and artists. Toomaj Salehi has set an example for others in the world to follow.
Although many class and political forces claim to support Toomaj, including some in the ruling elites of Europe, the U.S., and the Iranian diaspora—they have done nothing significant to win his release in the past five months. Do you think any of the ruling elites want to see the kind of rebellion against oppression and exploitation that Toomaj promotes in his songs? Think of their response to the George Floyd uprising or the Arab Spring!
Instead, relying on the grassroots, the people of the world, to free him is the only strategy in sync with what we know of Toomaj’s own views, one which can unleash the most powerful struggle for his freedom and contribute to the fight for a better world.
The IEC is calling on everyone to take up “Free Toomaj!” Download material from our Toomaj resource page. Get the word out, organize an action, take the IEC palmcard/flyer to concerts, churches, community groups, schools, encourage people to post them online. Organize discussions that make use of our Toomaj resource page and our Emergency Appeal. Put up Free Toomaj signs/posters in your window and on your front door. Get hip hop radio stations to play his songs, yes, in Farsi, for a taste of internationalism. Call on hip hop artists to actively support the call for Toomaj’s freedom.
We must Free Toomaj and ALL Iranian political prisoners by relying on the people and not all the many reactionary institutions of the world, East or West.
We demand of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS NOW!
We say to the U.S. government:
NO THREATS OR WAR MOVES AGAINST IRAN, LIFT U.S. SANCTIONS!