Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi could face death penalty over protests

Regime critic charged with 'corruption on earth', after arrest sparked concern from Iranians at home and abroad

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi has been charged with spreading propaganda against the regime. @OfficialToomaj / Twitter
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Iranian rapper and regime critic Toomaj Salehi could face the death penalty after being charged with “corruption on earth.”

A judiciary official has confirmed the charge to state-affiliated media, but denied claims from rights groups that his trial had started.

Salehi is also charged with spreading propaganda against the regime, an accusation commonly levelled against critics of the government, the official said on Sunday.

He is one of several high-profile Iranians to be arrested over their support for the continuing protests.

The rapper was a popular face of the demonstrations. His arrest in October led to widespread outrage from the largely young crowd who have defied the crackdown launched by security forces since anti-government protests began more than two months ago.

These were sparked by the death of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, 22, in morality police custody in September. She had been detained in Tehran for wearing her hijab “improperly”.

Rights groups have said Salehi's first hearing has been held and his lawyer was barred from attending.

Protesters in Istanbul with placards featuring Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi and children killed in demonstrations in Iran. AFP

Before his arrest, the rapper had released several videos of him protesting and supporting others taking to the streets.

In one song, he referred to the “crime” of “hair flowing in the wind” — a reference to Iran's strict dress code which mandates the headscarf for women.

Salehi's family has told media outlets he has been tortured and had not been granted a fair legal process, which is a common occurrence for regime critics.

His uncle, Eghbal Eghbali, said 50 people raided the rapper's home at the time of his arrest. Photos showing Salehi blindfolded in the back of a car circulated widely after his arrest.

He is being held near the central city of Isfahan and has said he has been tortured, Mr Eghbali told CNN.

State-run IRNA agency said the hip-hop artist “promoted violence and conflict with armed forces” on Twitter during the protests.

It recently aired footage of Salehi, blindfolded, in a seemingly forced apology for taking part in demonstrations.

“Corruption on earth” is a charge often handed to critics of the regime and is punishable by death.

Iran is one of the world's biggest executioners.

Amnesty International has said Tehran is seeking the death penalty for at least 21 people in “sham trials”, and urged countries with diplomatic relations with Tehran to send high-level observers to the court proceedings.

On Monday, the judiciary also said one of the country's top footballers remains in detention, after being held for his criticism of the government.

Voria Ghafouri, who chose not to go to the World Cup, was arrested for spreading propaganda against the state and “tarnishing the reputation” of the national team.

The Iran team initially refused to sing the national anthem in their opening match, against England, in Qatar. For their second game, against Wales, some players did.

Families of the players have said they have been threatened with imprisonment and torture if players “do not behave” in Tuesday's match against the US.

Updated: November 29, 2022, 5:29 AM