Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian and his brother, writer and filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, are currently serving three-year prison sentences on charges of “insulting Islamic sanctities,” “propaganda against the state,” and “illegal audio-visual activities.” The two brothers and their friend, Yousef Emadi, were arrested in October 2013 in connection with Barg Music, an underground music-sharing website that the three co-founded. They began serving their sentences on June 5, 2016. On June 22, 2017, they were temporarily released on bail pending review of their final appeal.


Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian are accomplished Iranian artists. Mehdi’s most recent album—for which he served as musician, composer, and producer—is entitled History of Iran Narrated by Setar, and Hossein’s first feature film The Upside-down Triangle, a commentary on the Iranian laws governing women’s right to divorce, was completed in 2013. Along with their friend, Yousef Emadi, the Rajabian brothers co-founded the underground music-sharing website Barg Music.

The three were arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in October 2013 and charged with distributing unlicensed music, much of which was considered “offensive,” through Barg Music. At the time, Hossein was already facing criticism over his controversial film The Upside-down Triangle, which was in production. According to Amnesty International, the three were held for 18 days at an unknown location, where they endured beatings and electric shocks before being transferred to Evin Prison, northwest of Tehran. Interrogations continued there and the three were forced to confess. During this time, Hossein began to experience seizures.

The Rajabian brothers and Emadi were released after two months in solitary confinement. More than a year later, in May 2015, they were summoned before the 21st branch of the Revolutionary Court. Despite pleading that their forced confessions were made under duress, all three were found guilty of “insulting Islamic sanctities,” “propaganda against the state,” and “illegal audio-visual activities,” among other charges. The three did not have access to a lawyer during their interrogations or the trial, which lasted only minutes.

Mehdi, Hossein, and Yousef were sentenced to six years in prison and a 20 million IRR fine (about $6,000). In February 2016, their case went before an appeals court, and again the three were denied the right to legal representation. The court upheld the fine but commuted their sentence to three years in prison and a three-year suspended sentence. The Rajabian brothers began serving their sentence on June 5, 2016, at Evin Prison. Emadi has yet to be imprisoned.

Mehdi suffers from multiple medical conditions that require specialized care and medication. Before his detention, he was diagnosed with suspected multiple sclerosis (MS) and recommended medication and further diagnostic tests. But for the first two months of his detention, Mehdi was denied proper medical treatment for his condition and was barred from taking temporary medical leave, causing his health to deteriorate. Hossein is suffering from kidney problems and worsening seizures. 

In September 2016, Mehdi and Hossein began their first hunger strike to protest the prison’s refusal to give them adequate medical care, as well as its decision to separate the two brothers. According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Mehdi had been transferred to the non-political prisoner’s ward, where he faced beatings and harassment from fellow inmates. The brothers started another joint hunger strike in October, which ended one month later when Mehdi was granted temporary medical leave due to severe malnourishment and other health issues connected with the hunger strike. Hossein was denied medical assistance at that time.

The brothers’ health issues have continued, and another medical furlough was granted in March 2017. They returned to prison on April 6, 2017, to continue serving out their sentences. On June 22, 2017, they were temporarily released on bail pending review of their final appeal.

To learn more about Mehdi and Hossein, click here.

On June 1, 2017, ARC’s partner, Freemuse with the Center for Human Rights in Iran called for their release in a public letter to the newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.