(NEW YORK) – Iranian musician Mehdi Yarrahi has been sentenced to two years imprisonment and seventy-four lashes for his song “Roosarito” (Your Head Scarf), which he dedicates to “the noble women of my homeland, who bravely shine in the front line of the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.” The song protests Iran’s long-standing mandatory hijab rule with lyrics such as, “Take off your scarf, let your hair flow.”  PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) calls for all charges against Yarrahi to be dropped. 

“It is hard to fathom a government so threatened by a song that it would condemn a popular musician to the cruel sentence of two years in prison and seventy-four lashes. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise in today’s Iran. Mehdi Yarrahi’s disproportionate conviction is further proof of the power of art as Iranian authorities continue to persecute artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers fearlessly expressing criticism of the government’s authoritarian attacks on basic fundamental freedoms, including the right to artistic freedom. We vehemently oppose Yarrahi’s conviction and sentencing and demand the immediate dismissal of all charges against him. We stand in solidarity with the people of Iran and demand that the principles of free expression be upheld,” said Julie Trébault, director of ARC.

Yarrahi’s conviction follows his temporary release in October 2023 from Iran’s Evin prison, where he had been held since his arrest in August 2023. He is currently out on a 150 billion rials bail ($300,000). The charges against him include “producing, sending, distributing, and publishing obscene and immoral content through computer and telecommunication systems, encouraging people towards corruption and obscenity,” and “propaganda against the system.” Yarrahi’s arrest occurred in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the protests with the Iranian government’s announcement that “cultural activists” working “against national interests,” including female artists and actors who remove their hijab, will not be permitted to work in the country. It is unclear when Yarrahi might be summoned to serve his sentence or if he intends to appeal.

Numerous artists and writers have been persecuted for their participation in or support of the protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, including political rapper Toomaj Salehi and actress Taraneh Alidoosti. 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, as well as the release of all prisoners of conscience. 

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