Who is Toomaj Salehi? Coldplay and Sting call for release of Iranian rapper sentenced to death

Protesters with placards and signs opposite Downing Street in London (PA Wire)
Protesters with placards and signs opposite Downing Street in London (PA Wire)

About 100 figures in music, culture and human rights activism have signed a statement calling for the release of the Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who was sentenced to death in Iran after protesting in support of women’s rights.

The statement calling for Salehi’s release was drawn up by the advocacy group Index on Censorship and is supported by Jade Thirlwall of Little Mix, DJ Rob Da Bank, writer Margaret Atwood and theatre-maker Roshi Nasehi.

The statement said: “As artists, musicians, writers and leading cultural figures we stand in solidarity with Toomaj Salehi. We call for his death sentence to be immediately and unconditionally quashed and for him to be released from detention without delay, with all other charges dismissed.

“Art must be allowed to criticise, to provoke, to question and to challenge authority. That is both our right and our duty as artists.”

Who is he?

Toomaj Salehi, 33, is a rapper from Iran. While Salehi worked as a labourer at a metalworking factory by day, he also makes protest songs concerning Iran's societal issues and the policies of the Iranian government.

Salehi's parents are Bakhtiari, an Iranian ethnic minority. His father was a political prisoner and was imprisoned by the Islamic republic authorities for eight years.

Why was he arrested?

Toomaj Salehi was originally arrested in September 2022. He spent a year and 21 days in prison, including 252 days in solitary confinement. After his release, he opened up about his time in prison and described being “severely tortured” while there.

Salehi was arrested once again two weeks later, in December 2023 and charged with “corruption on Earth”.

In April 2024, he was sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Isfahan over the accusation of "waging war against God" and "corruption on Earth".

What has been said?

Salehi has spoken out about the Iranian regime in protest tracks such as Mouse Hole, Turkmenchay and Pomegranate, which criticise the regime, call out corruption and support better rights for workers and women.