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NEW YORK (June 25, 2024) — On June 22, Iran’s Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Iranian hip-hop artist and Havel Prize Laureate Toomaj Salehi. The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision, which ruled the sentence excessive and contrary to Iranian law, but HRF demands Salehi’s immediate and unconditional release. 

“I thank the efforts of those who fight for human rights globally and who have raised their voices for my case in Iran because by doing so they are helping breathe new life not just into me but into the world,” Salehi told HRF through his friend, social media manager, and spokesperson, Negin Niknaam, on Tuesday. “Living without freedom is like dying twice. Living without freedom is like a stinking corpse that we carry like a slave until our death and its stench remains after it. But even within prison walls with chained hands, a free spirit carries a fragrance that remains after death and refreshes the world. Even if living freely is as short as a breath.”

In September 2022, at the height of the nationwide “Women, Life, Freedom” protests, Salehi released several songs supporting women’s rights. One song, “Divination,” with the lyrics, “Someone’s crime was that her hair was flowing in the wind. Someone’s crime is that he or she was brave and…outspoken,” grew in popularity and was sung throughout the protests.

Salehi was first arrested in October 2022 and was released on bail in November 2023 after the Supreme Court overturned his charges of “corruption on Earth,” “propaganda against the system,” “collaboration with a hostile government,” “inciting people to murder and riot,” and “insulting the leadership.” On Nov. 27, 2023, he posted a YouTube video describing the torture and forced confession he experienced during his detention. Three days later, armed plainclothes agents abducted Salehi. On April 23, Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death

Two weeks before his sentence was overturned, Salehi was awarded the 2024 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) in Oslo, Norway. Niknaam accepted the award on his behalf during the Havel Prize ceremony, which was reposted and liked on social media more than 10,000 times. Twitter co-founder, Block CEO, and OFF speaker Jack Dorsey, who attended the ceremony, tweeted #FreeToomaj, receiving 10,000 likes and 2,800 reposts. Salehi’s case was also featured in multiple Iran International stories during OFF. 

“Salehi is a symbol of nonviolent resistance for those advocating for a free and democratic Iran,” HRF Legal and Program Officer Claudia Bennett said. “He has bravely used his art to demand human rights, democracy, and gender equality. The Iranian regime, fearful of dissent, recognized his artistic power and tried to silence him. But, no one should be imprisoned, let alone sentenced to death, for singing a song.”

While the Supreme Court’s decision is welcomed, Salehi’s case will once again return to Branch 1 of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court. This means he could still be re-sentenced for exercising his right to freedom of expression through song. 

HRF is working with Doughty Street Chambers and Index on Censorship to represent Salehi and his family at the international level. A petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and several advocacy efforts are underway to ensure Salehi is free from judicial harassment.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

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