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Activists angry at ‘forced confession’ of Iran rapper jailed for criticizing regime

Toomaj Salehi disappeared over the weekend after supporting Mahsa Amini demonstrations; state TV publishes video of battered rapper conceding he ‘made a mistake’

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi was arrested after he published music criticizing the regime. (Screenshot/Youtube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi was arrested after he published music criticizing the regime. (Screenshot/Youtube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

PARIS — Activists on Wednesday condemned a video published by Iran’s state-run media and purporting to show a dissident rapper as a forced confession extracted under duress amid ongoing anti-regime protests.

Toomaj Salehi, well known in Iran’s rap scene, disappeared over the weekend after bitterly denouncing the regime and supporting protests that have erupted over the last six weeks following the death of Mahsa Amini, rights groups said.

US-based campaigner Omid Memarian said there was “clear evidence of the use of torture and mistreatment of protesters” in the video.

“The regime is addicted to [the] inhuman practice of forced confessions,” he said, expressing anger that Twitter had allowed the video to be posted there.

The video, posted on the social media channels of the state-run IRNA news agency, claimed to show the “first pictures” of Salehi after his arrest.

It depicts a tattooed man in a sleeveless black T-shirt sitting on the ground, wearing a blindfold and looking bloodied and bruised.

The man says: “I am Toomaj Salehi. I said I made a mistake. I said… that you should run. I didn’t mean you.”

In an attempt to provide context, IRNA also showed pictures of a previous video Salehi had posted, in which he addressed security forces by saying: “You must run. This is not friendly advice.”

Rights groups have repeatedly accused Iran of extracting confessions from political prisoners by force, which are then broadcast for propaganda purposes. AFP could not immediately confirm the identity of the man in the video.

“Extremely disturbed Iran state media are sharing forced confessions of rapper Toomaj Salehi under clear duress,” freedom of expression group Article 19 wrote on Twitter. “Salehi has done nothing but practice his freedom of expression. He must be freed. The perpetrators of his torture must be accountable.”

Salehi is the latest prominent figure to be arrested in a mass crackdown that has seen dozens of journalists, lawyers, civil society and cultural figures arrested.

His detention came shortly after giving an interview highly critical of the regime to the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation.

“You are dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation… in order to keep its power, money and weapons,” Salehi said in the interview.

Iranian state media claim Salehi was arrested while trying to cross one of the country’s western borders, but his family have denied this — saying he was in the southwestern province of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari at the time.

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