(NEW YORK) – PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) welcomes the decision by Iran’s Supreme Court to release rapper Toomaj Salehi. Iran’s Supreme Court ordered his release on Friday, November 18, 2023, stating that it had identified “flaws in the original sentence.” 

“We celebrate the release of Toomaj Salehi and the fact that all charges have been dropped against him. We hope Salehi receives urgent medical treatment after facing brutality and torture while in prison. Authoritarian governments regularly target artists, musicians, writers, and other culture workers, instinctively understanding their ability to spur hope in the hearts of people dreaming of a better future. Musicians and artists like Salehi, persecuted for exercising their right to free expression, need our unwavering support,” said Julie Trébault, director of Artists at Risk Connection. 

Salehi, arrested in October 2022 for his music in support of the countrywide “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests that followed the custodial death of Mahsa Amini, was sentenced in July 2023 to six years and three months on the charge of “corruption on Earth.” He spent over a year in detention – including 252 days in solitary confinement – and endured cruel treatment at the hands of prison authorities, all while being denied access to his family and legal counsel. 

Earlier this year, the Iranian government announced that “cultural activists” behaving “against national interests” – including female actors who removed their hijab – would no longer be permitted to work. This ban led to the arrests and investigations of several artists, musicians, and filmmakers, including Iranian filmmaker Saeed Roustayi and Iranian actresses Leila Bolukat and Afsaneh Bayegan.

“We call on the Iranian authorities and Supreme Court to review the unjustified charges levied against other artists and prisoners of conscience arrested in connection with the protests and call for their immediate release. We also urge the international community to continue advocating for the rights and freedoms of at-risk artists in Iran. Cases such as Salehi’s or those of actress Taraneh Alidoosti and musician Mehdi Yarrahi are a testament to the potential of international advocacy to secure limited freedom for Iranian creatives.”

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

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