(NEW YORK) – PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) vehemently opposes the new conviction of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi for “propaganda against the system.” Announced on January 1, 2024, Salehi was sentenced by Iranian authorities to one year of imprisonment. Additionally, his passport has been annulled for two years, and he is obliged to participate in a behavioral management course. ARC calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately release Salehi, to drop all charges against him, and to halt their persistent assault on free expression. 

This new charge follows sentencing in July 2023 to six years and three months for “corruption on Earth.” He was initially arrested in October 2022 for rap lyrics in support of Iran’s “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests, which followed the custodial death of Mahsa Amini. Salehi spent 252 days in detention and was released on November 18, 2023, as ordered by Iran’s Supreme Court on the grounds of “flaws in the original sentence,” only to be rearrested 12 days later for publicly speaking about the brutal treatment he experienced while in prison.

“We strongly condemn the conviction of Toomaj Salehi and demand his immediate release, urging the dismissal of all charges against him. The Iranian authorities have shown time and again their great fear of artists, musicians, writers, journalists, filmmakers, and others who dare share ideas that are in opposition to the policies of the current regime. This cowardice must stop. Iran needs artistic freedom and its artistic community to inspire citizens to develop a better, more equitable future for all. The re-arrest of Salehi and his severe sentence is part of a calculated effort to suppress dissenting voices, illustrating a broader and alarming crackdown on the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” said Julie Trébault, director of Artists at Risk Connection. 

Earlier last year, the Iranian government made clear its stand on “cultural activists” behaving “against national interests,” announcing that such cultural workers would no longer be permitted to work. This included female actors who removed their hijab – a ban that led to the arrests and persecution of several artists, musicians, and filmmakers, including Iranian filmmaker Saeed Roustayi and Iranian actresses Leila Bolukat and Afsaneh Bayegan. In December 2023, PEN America and thirty leading organizations, film festivals, and filmmakers signed an open letter calling upon Iranian authorities to immediately drop all charges against film directors Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha for their film My Favourite Cake.

PEN America’s Freedom To Write Index reported the jailing of at least 57 writers for their work in 2022, making Iran the second-highest jailer of writers in the world. On December 10, 2023, imprisoned Iranian writer, human rights activist, and 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom To Write awardee Narges Mohammadi was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia. PEN America and ARC continue to demand her immediate release.


About the Artists at Risk Connection

The Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) is a project of PEN America dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the networks and organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an at-risk artist, please contact ARC.


About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Dietlind Lerner, [email protected] tel. +1 310 699 8775