Rap music in Iran: 'Crossing the red line into politics makes you a target'

Dozens of rappers have been arrested in Iran since the rise of hip-hop in the country in the early 2000s. But the death sentence pronounced on April 24 against the rapper Toomaj Salehi marks a turning point in the Iranian regime’s intolerance of artists with a political message. Exiled rap artists Justina and Ghogha told FRANCE 24 of their admiration for Salehi, "who scares the powers that be".

The last time Justina spoke to Toomaj Salehi was in November 2023. The dissident rapper had just been released on bail after spending more than a year in prison.

"It was brief, I just wanted to check on him, but I didn't want him to get into trouble for having been in contact with me. So we didn't talk much," recalled Iranian rap artist Justina, who lives in exile in Sweden.

Less than two weeks later, after making a video where he denounced his detention conditions, Salehi was arrested again. In the footage, the emaciated but determined rapper directly faced the camera and recounted how his hands and legs were broken. "They hit me in the face. I tried to protect myself with my hands, but they broke my fingers," he said of his torturers.

"No one, no authority should be above the law. It is the people who decide the laws," he continued, before passing on a message of hope to his fans: "I hope that better days will come. I think we can build a beautiful Iran together.”

“He had already been arrested before Mahsa Amini's death,” Justina noted, “but he never gave up.”

Read more on FRANCE 24 English

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