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Toomaj Salehi sentenced to death for rap  

Toomaj Salehi
Toomaj Salehi was arrested in Iran after rapping about corruption.

By Sana Esfahanian 

You cannot be apolitical if you are born in Iran; that is a fact. Somehow, no matter what you do, the Islamic Republic Government is there, lurking and watching. Having come to power after the 1979 revolution, this manipulative, highly corrupt state has successfully disguised a brutal dictatorship as a democracy for over four decades. When you are born in a totalitarian state, you cannot be apolitical.

On the 24th of April 2024, Toomaj Salehi was sentenced to death by the Islamic Republic of Iran. His accusation is “waging war against God” and “corruption on Earth”, both of which sound fitter for mythical fables than real crimes. In actuality, he is a hip-hop artist and rapper who uses words to speak truth to power. He has 20 days to appeal the ruling, per his lawyer, Amir Raisian.

Salehi, whose day job was a laborer at a metalworking factory, was arrested for participating in the 2022 Women, Life, Liberty movement in Iran following the brutal murder of Mahsa Amini. The protests took place for months against the state. It is estimated that over 500 civil protesters were killed, among them 49 women and 68 children. These brutal murders by the Islamic government are nothing new. This regime has “waged war against life” and “corrupted liberty” since coming to power. And although they claim it’s in the name of God, what they truly want is the oil money.

Salehi highlights extreme corruption

Since the discovery of oil in what was known as the Persian empire, foreign powers have used force to control extraction, which led to the nationalization of the oil industry in 1951. This eliminated foreign interventions yet put the oil in the hands of the state/government. Consequently, those supposed to serve the people have been serving themselves with oil money.

The Supreme Leader, his goons (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or the IRGC), their boot-lickers, and most clergies immensely benefit from this national, environmentally disastrous resource while Iranians go broke daily.

Corruption is a severe problem in Iran, widespread in the government. It’s highly coveted and denied, of course. But even after four decades of consuming oil money, the establishment wants more, so much so that they have been arresting, killing, and torturing the people who complain about the corruption. The people who speak up have the right to benefit from their country’s resources; however, they don’t have enough to feed their children. The journalists who write about these realities are confined in political prisons, one of which is located in Iran’s capital: Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Jailed in Isfahan

There are so many of these political prisons all over the country. Toomaj Salehi has been held in one in the historic city of Isfahan. Nicknamed by people as the “son of Iran”, he has become a national hero for standing up against oppression without a weapon. Prior to his arrest, Salehi worked in a metal factory. He is simply a labourer. Toomaj has committed no crime other than releasing music that has criticized the Islamic Republic and its cowardly leader.

Akin to authentic rappers before him, Salehi talks about the everyday struggles of impoverished citizens in his lyrics. Tomaj also encouraged the people to unite. In one of his verses, Salehi addresses the IRGC directly as terrorists: “You saw the pain of people, but you closed your eyes; you saw the oppression of the oppressor, but you ignored it, you are a [criminal].” He also predicts a humiliating fate for the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Dictator: “There will come a day when you will run away and look for a mouse hole to hide.”

Toomaj Salehi’s words condemn all those cooperating with the regime and complicit in this corruption, from unethical journalists to opportunist actors and political figures, overshadowing the same vagrancy and destiny for them. If executed, he won’t be the first innocent person to have been brutally murdered by Iran’s corrupt government. But if we rally and speak truth to power—much like he did—Toomaj’s story would end differently, reaffirming our faith in humanity. We have mere days to appeal his death sentence. Will you remain silent?

Sana Esfahanian is a pseudonym of a Canadian resident who’s withheld their name to protect the safety of relatives in Iran. Follow Pancouver on X (formerly Twitter) @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.