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Iranian rapper arrested over anti-regime protest could face death penalty

Toomaj Salehi charged with ‘corruption on earth,’ one of Iran’s most serious offenses; according to a US-based rights group, his trial has begun ‘without a lawyer of his choice’

People hold placards bearing portraits of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi (R), who is arrested in Iran, and portraits of children (L), who were killed during the protests in Iran, during a rally in support of Iranian women in Istanbul, on November 26, 2022. (Yasin AKGUL / AFP)
People hold placards bearing portraits of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi (R), who is arrested in Iran, and portraits of children (L), who were killed during the protests in Iran, during a rally in support of Iranian women in Istanbul, on November 26, 2022. (Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian rapper who expressed support for anti-regime protests is charged with “corruption on earth” and could face the death penalty, judicial authorities confirmed on Sunday.

A US-based rights group had tweeted on Saturday that Toomaj Salehi’s trial had begun “without a lawyer of his choice,” and his family said his “life is at serious risk.”

“The trial has not yet begun but the charge against Toomaj Salehi has been drafted and sent back” to the court in Isfahan, said Assadollah Jafari, judicial chief in the central province, according to the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.

Salehi is charged with “corruption on earth,” according to the judiciary, one of the Islamic Republic’s most serious offenses.

He is also accused of spreading “lies on the internet, propaganda against the state, of having formed and managed illegal groups with the aim of disrupting security in cooperation with a government hostile” to Iran, and of inciting people to violence.

Iran’s judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests. Salehi is among a number of prominent figures detained.

The September 16 death in morality police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, for allegedly breaching the strict dress code for women, sparked nationwide demonstrations.

Authorities call them “riots” and say they are encouraged by Iran’s Western “enemies.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk says around 14,000 people have been arrested over the protests.

Salehi had disappeared at the end of October before appearing in a video published on November 2 by Iran’s state news agency IRNA.

The video claimed to show the first images of Salehi after his arrest.

In it, the man says: “I am Toomaj Salehi. I said I made a mistake.”

Rights activists condemned the recording as a forced confession.

His detention came shortly after he told 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.”

Iran’s judiciary has already confirmed six death sentences over the protests, and rights group Amnesty International says that based on official reports at least 21 people currently on trial are charged with crimes that could see them hanged.

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