“Manage my account just like me, you are my most reliable friend. Cover the protests, don’t support any party or group, just voiceless normal people.”
That was the last message Toomaj Salehi sent his friend Negin Niknaam before being abducted and arrested on the 28th of October last year.
Salehi, 32, is serving a sentence of 6 years and 3 months in a prison in Isfahan, central Iran, for attending anti-government protests and releasing music speaking out against the regime.
He was found guilty of “propagandistic activity against the government” and “inciting people to protest”. When he was arrested, he was told he would face the death penalty but he was spared execution.
Protests exploded across Iran in September last year after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody after being arrested by the country’s so-called “morality police”.
They accused her of failing to wear her hijab properly, and claimed that she died of pre-existing health conditions. The protests were the largest and most significant period of resistance in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which saw the Shah overthrown and the introduction of a clergy-led government led by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Salehi would cover his face when attending the protests to avoid being recognised by Iranian forces. He would actively share protest locations and encourage people to join in which made him a target for the regime.
Some protests broke out over the weekend to mark one year since Amini’s death, but they were muted in comparison to the mass movement last year. Iranian security forces cracked down hard on any potential dissent, and Amini’s father was reportedly detained for a few hours on Saturday.
Salehi is one of the estimated 19,700 people who were arrested during the weeks of unrest following Mahsa Amini’s death.
He will be banned from travelling and performing music when he’s released. He’s denied committing any crimes.
Since being imprisoned, he’s spent 252 days in solitary confinement and has been subjected to multiple forms of torture, his friend told VICE News.
“He was violently abducted in the middle of the night,” Niknaam told VICE News over WhatsApp.
“The regime forces repeatedly hit him with electric batons and fists in the head and face, causing him to lose consciousness for 20 days.
“They jumped on his stomach and ribs with their boots. His legs, fingers and ribs were also broken.
“He wasn’t able to walk or eat for days.”
German MP Ye-One Rhie is a political sponsor for Salehi, one of several German MPs supporting Iranian prisoners. She has been campaigning for his release and has also expressed concern about his treatment. She told VICE News over a video call that he needs “urgent medical attention” as a result of the torture he’s endured.
“For over 300 days, Toomaj Salehi has been innocently imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran just because he freely talked and rapped about his thoughts and wishes for his country,” she said.
“I am still very worried about his well-being. Toomaj very courageously protested his sentence. I demand that his retrial has to be lawful and I demand to get access to Toomaj myself to really know how he is doing.”
Salehi’s friends and family say he’s not yet received any medical attention despite the reports of his injuries.
They’re calling for his immediate release from prison and for him to get urgent medical care.
Niknaam, his social media manager who is based in Germany, worries about his safety in prison and how he’s coping mentally.
“I know that Toomaj is very active so I’m worried that he will get depressed in prison.
“He loves being in nature and hiking, so being in prison is definitely hard for him.”
She describes him as someone who is intelligent, brave, and kind.
“Toomaj is not just a rapper. He is much more than that and rap is just one of his protest tools.”
Niknaam says from inside prison she’s sure Salehi would want Iranians “to continue the protests to free our country.”
Source » vice