(NEW YORK) – PEN America today called for the immediate release of Iranian dissident and rapper Toomaj Salehi and condemned the “brutal” six-year prison sentence he received on Monday solely for his protest music and encouraging dissent. Reported to have been tortured severely since his arrest in October 2022 on grounds of causing “corruption on Earth,” Salehi has been transferred out of solitary confinement and into a general ward.

Julie Trebault, director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, said: “The severe sentence imposed on Salehi is a stark example of the Iranian authorities’ brutal actions. Persecuting musicians solely for their creative and free expression is unacceptable. Although the sentencing has moved him out of solitary confinement, we remain gravely concerned about his safety and well-being. We demand his immediate release and for all charges to be dropped against him. ARC stands firm in its commitment to defending artistic freedom and condemning any form of oppression on artists and cultural workers.”

Since his arrest, Salehi has been severely tortured, denied medical care and any opportunity to see his family. Last month, reports emerged that Iranian authorities were conducting a closed-door trial of Salehi. PEN America condemned the lack of due process of the proceedings, and called for transparency of information on Salehi’s trial and the trials of other prisoners of conscience, who are currently detained by the Iranian authorities.

Salehi was arrested on October 30, 2022 after reportedly sharing videos on Instagram calling on Iranians to support the current wave of demonstrations and releasing rap lyrics that criticized the Iranian government and its “year of colossal failure.”

Salehi is among many artists who rose in protest following the death in police custody of an Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, in September 2022. Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin, who was also arrested in the same month and ordered to undergo a retrial in May 2023, has reportedly been subject to intense interrogations and torture by authorities while awaiting his next court session in Rajaeishahr Prison, west of Tehran. He has been denied access to his lawyer.

Iran is one of the most inhospitable places in the world for free expression, and the largest jailer of women writers globally in PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, which provides an annual count of jailed writers worldwide. In 2022, Iran was second after China among the world’s worst jailers of writers, with the Iranian government having imprisoned almost three times the number of writers from the previous year. More about PEN America’s work on Iran can be found here.

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 artist at risk, 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: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057