Iranian musician's ‘complete prohibition’ after allegedly helping women sing

Mehdi Rajabian is under house arrest in Iran, strictly forbidden to make music in what he says is ‘akin to complete death’

A prominent Iranian musician and activist has described his life of “complete prohibition” days after he was arrested and charged with aiding women to sing and dance.

Mehdi Rajabian, 30, said he was summoned by a police officer last week and sent to the Revolutionary Court of Sair after one of his latest art projects was published online. It was the third time he has been arrested by the Iranian regime because of his craft.

In October 2013, Mr Rajabian was first arrested by the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and sent to Tehran’s notorious Evin jail. He was accused of insulting the values of Islam and spreading propaganda against the regime.

The arrest came shortly after he released the album History of Iran Narrated by Setar. The setar, an Iranian lute, is Mr Rajabian's main instrument. He said on Facebook the album was about the "absurdity" of the Iran-Iraq war. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard then shut down his studio, banned the album and confiscated all hard drives that contained album tracks. His music label, Barg Music, was also shut down.

He then spent three months in solitary confinement in Evin jail.

The second time he was arrested, he was in held in the prison for two years for charges relating to “illegal art”.

Speaking of his third arrest to The National from his home in Sari, northern Iran, he said: "I went to court with the police and handcuffs. The judge told me the charges of publishing a woman singing and a woman dancing in my latest project, which, authorities say, causes society to go into prostitution."

The musician was interrogated by police and detained for several hours but his family posted his bail until his pending trial. He is now under house arrest and has been told if he plays any music or engages in any other creative activity or leaves the house, he will be returned to jail.

The horrors of being in jail are still fresh in Mr Rajabian's memory. In 2016 when he was held in Evin, circumstances got so desperate he went on hunger strike for 40 days. This led to him becoming critically ill with gastric disease and muscle weakness. Eventually a hospital had to send a letter to the jail stating he was no longer well enough to be behind bars.

No date has been set for his trial, but he insists his music will always carry a philosophy of freedom.

“I need women singing in my project; I need female dance along with philosophy and thinking. Whenever I feel the need to produce this music, I will definitely produce it. I do not censor myself.”

But the regime has made it near impossible for Mr Rajabian to make that music. His work cannot be published or sold in Iran and other musicians are forbidden to collaborate with him. Many are even afraid to talk to him, he said.

“Of course, I am forbidden to leave Iran; my record label’s office is also sealed. I am only at home and I caused my whole family to be in trouble,” he said.

Because his label is banned, his last album had to be released on an international one: Sony Music.

Mr Rajabian said that being put under house arrest was “as if I had been transferred from a smaller prison to a larger one”. He says he is experiencing “complete prohibition” and “coronavirus days are normal days” for him.

“The Iranian regime hates me. They all banned me from working and studying and leaving Iran. Now the pressure is on me not to even produce another work of art. It is akin to complete death.”