Toomaj Salehi: The Defiant Voice of Protest and Freedom in Iranian Rap

Toomaj Salehi is a beacon of defiance and resilience against oppression in Iranian rap. Born on December 3, 1990, in Isfahan to Bakhtiari parents, Salehi’s early life was marked by hardship. His father, a political prisoner, spent eight years incarcerated by the Islamic Republic, while his mother succumbed to cancer when he was just twelve. Raised in such an environment, Salehi grew up acutely aware of the oppressive realities of life under a regime that stifles freedom.

After studying mechanical engineering, he joined his father’s workshop, forging metal parts in the suburbs of Isfahan. But his brother’s introduction to rap music ignited a new passion in Toomaj. Deeply influenced by Tupac Shakur, he launched his rap career at 26, driven by a fierce desire to speak truth to power.

In September 2021, Toomaj’s viral hit “Soorakh Moosh” (“Rat Hole”) put him on the government’s radar. The song denounced “corrupt journalists” and “artists serving the regime,” urging his listeners to be their saviors. He was soon arrested for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “propaganda against the regime.” Released on bail after eight days, Toomaj didn’t back down. Instead, he doubled down, joining the protests that erupted nationwide after the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022.


In his lyrics, Toomaj courageously criticized the regime’s brutality. His final YouTube video before his arrest in October 2022 included the song “Someone’s crime was dancing with her hair in the wind. Someone’s crime was that he or she was brave and criticized… 44 years of your government. It’s the year of failure.” Such bold defiance came at a cost: the regime labeled him one of the “leaders of the riots.”

On October 30, 2022, Salehi was arrested again, accused of “spreading corruption on Earth,” a vague indictment frequently used against dissidents. The Iranian state media attempted to discredit him, broadcasting a video of a blindfolded man who allegedly confessed to making “a mistake.” Despite this, Toomaj remained defiant, and in a video posted online, he revealed he had been tortured, stating, “They broke my arms and legs. They hit me in the face and head,” adding that he received adrenaline injections in the neck to keep him conscious during the torture.

His story quickly garnered international attention. Artists and intellectuals worldwide rallied behind him, promoting the hashtag #FreeToomaj. Notable figures like Reza Pahlavi called for his immediate release, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded the “immediate and unconditional release” of Salehi.

Despite this, on April 24, 2024, Toomaj Salehi was sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Isfahan for “waging war against God” and “corruption on Earth.” His lawyer, Amir Raisian, immediately appealed the ruling. Salehi now faces a grim future in Isfahan Prison, where he is denied phone calls and human contact.

His case remains a stark reminder of the regime’s increasing repression, with Amnesty International noting a sharp rise in executions in Iran, reaching 853 in 2023. Salehi’s sentencing reflects a regime in crisis, unable to silence voices that challenge its legitimacy.

Yet, Toomaj Salehi’s music continues to inspire. His bold lyrics embody the spirit of the #WomanLifeFreedom movement and the broader struggle for democracy in Iran. Despite being tortured, silenced, and sentenced to death, Toomaj remains the defiant voice of a generation demanding change.

As the world watches, we must raise our voices in solidarity, echoing the calls to save a national hero. Toomaj Salehi should be on stage, not in prison, and his lyrics should galvanize people for change, not lead to his execution. The Iranian regime fears nothing more than an artist who can unite the masses, and that is precisely what Toomaj does.