Iran Detains Rapper Salehi Over Support For Anti-Government Protests

Iran has announced the arrest of rapper Toomaj Salehi, one of the most prominent artists in the country to support the current wave of anti-government protests.

Security authorities announced that the rapper was arrested on October 30 while attempting to flee the country. Salehi's uncle denied the claim, saying his nephew was arrested in the southwestern Iranian province of Chaharmahal Bakhtiari.

The state judiciary's Mizan news agency quoted Isfahan prosecutor Seyyed Mohammad Mousaviyan as saying that Salehi had "played a key role in creating chaos and inviting and encouraging the recent disturbances in Isfahan Province and in the city of Shahinshahr."

Since the beginning of the new wave of protests in Iran, ignited by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly, Salehi said he feared he would be arrested and went into hiding.

Last year, Salehi was arrested at his home after releasing several protest songs. A few days later, the rapper was released on bail amid widespread condemnation of his arrest by his supporters and by rights groups.

Salehi recently wrote to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that he would surrender if protesters arrested in the Iranian central city of Shahinshahr were released.

Self-exiled Iranian dissident rapper Hichkas, known by fans as the father of Persian rap, told his followers on Twitter that Salehi “has been fighting for freedom, and has been very influential in the Iran Revolution.”

Amnesty International said that Salehi was targeted “solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.”

Salehi has gained notoriety for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran.

His songs also highlight the widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.

Iran has a record of targeting artists and intellectuals who don’t follow the official line and touch on topics deemed as sensitive.

Several Iranian celebrities, including soccer star Ali Daei, have been interrogated and had their passports confiscated by the authorities after showing support for the anti-government protests that have occurred daily since Amini's death on September 16.

Most Iranian rappers publish their music without approval from Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the branch of the regime that regulates artistic work and enforces strict censorship rules.

Several rappers have been detained in recent years, while others have chosen to live in exile.