Iran sentences dissident rapper to death for backing protests

An Iranian court has sentenced a dissident rapper to death, drawing criticism from United Nations human rights officials. The rapper has been jailed for more than a year and a half for supporting protests sparked by the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini.

"Branch 1 of Isfahan Revolutionary Court... sentenced Toomaj Salehi to death on the charge of corruption on Earth," said the artist's lawyer, Amir Raisian, according to the reformist Shargh newspaper. State media said Thursday that Iran's judiciary confirmed the death sentence but added that he is entitled to a sentence reduction, Reuters reported.

Salehi, 33, was arrested in October 2022 after publicly backing the wave of demonstrations which erupted a month earlier, triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Amini, an Iranian Kurd who had been detained over an alleged breach of the Islamic republic's strict dress rules for women. Months of unrest following Amini's death in September 2022 saw hundreds of people killed including dozens of security personnel, and thousands more arrested. Iranian officials labelled the protests "riots" and accused Tehran's foreign foes of fomenting the unrest.

The Revolutionary Court had accused Salehi of "assistance in sedition, assembly and collusion, propaganda against the system and calling for riots," Raisian said.

U.N. human rights officials issued a statement Thursday demanding Salehi's immediate release and urging Iranian authorities to reverse the sentence.

"Criticism of government policy, including through artistic expression is protected under the rights to freedom of expression and the right to take part in cultural life. It must not be criminalised," the statement said. "...We are alarmed by the imposition of the death sentence and the alleged ill-treatment of Mr. Salehi which appears to be related solely to the exercise of his right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity."

The nation's Supreme Court had reviewed the case and issued a ruling to the lower court to "remove the flaws in the sentence," Raisian said. However, the court had "in an unprecedented move, emphasised its independence and did not implement the Supreme Court's ruling," according to Raisian.

Raisian said that he and Salehi "will certainly appeal against the sentence."

"The fact is that the verdict of the court has clear legal conflicts," the lawyer was quoted as saying. "The contradiction with the ruling of the Supreme Court is considered the most important and at the same time the strangest part of this ruling."

Nine men have been executed in protest-related cases involving killing and other violence against security forces.

–Roxana Saberi contributed reporting.

U.S. Catholics and their relationship to the church

Pope Francis says "negotiated peace is better than a war without end"

Meadows, Giuliani indicted in alleged Arizona fake elector scheme with ties to Trump