Russian Federation: Free Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva

Writers in Prison PEN Melbourne

Jun 1, 2024,

PEN International’s latest statement in support of Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who continues to be held on trumped-up grounds in the Russian Federation (below) is also available at the following link:


Russian Federation: Free Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva

The charges brought against Alsu Kurmasheva are preposterous and must be dropped at once. The Russian authorities are using her continued arbitrary detention to send a chilling message to fellow journalists in the Russian Federation and beyond, and to silence anyone who dares speak out. Kurmasheva must be released and reunited with her loved ones immediately,’ said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

31 May 2024 – The Russian authorities should end Alsu Kurmasheva’s year-long ordeal, release her immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against her, PEN International said today. Sunday 2 June will mark one year since the Russian-American journalist was first detained in Kazan, Tatarstan, a republic of the Russian Federation. She faces up to 15 years in prison under the Russian Federation’s draconian ‘Foreign Agent’ and military censorship laws.


Alsu Kurmasheva, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Tatar-Bashkir Service residing in the Czech Republic, was temporarily detained at Kazan airport on 2 June 2023 while waiting for her return flight. She had been travelling to the Russian Federation to visit her ailing mother. The authorities confiscated her US and Russian passports, preventing her from leaving the country, and subsequently fined her 10,000 rubles ($103) for failing to register her US passport. Kurmasheva was detained again on 18 October 2023 on charges of failing to register and declare herself as a ‘Foreign Agent’ (Article 330.1(3) of the Russian Criminal Code), which carries up to five years in prison. On 11 December 2023, reports emerged that the Russian authorities opened another case against her for spreading ‘knowingly false’ information about the Russian armed forces (Article 207.3(2) of the Russian Criminal Code), which carries up to 10 years in prison or up to 15 years in an aggravated case. She stands accused of taking part in the distribution of Saying No To War. 40 Stories of Russians Who Oppose the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, a book published in November 2022 by RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service.


Alsu Kurmasheva is currently being held in pre-trial detention in Kazan and denied US consular access. On 31 May, the Sovetsky District Court of Kazan extended her detention order again, which is now set to expire on 5 August 2024. The Court notably rejected her lawyers’ request to move her to house arrest. Speaking to reporters on 1 April prior to appearing in Court, Kurmasheva said she was ‘not very well physically’ and that her detention conditions were ‘very bad.’ She also reported receiving ‘minimal’ medical care. Alsu Kurmasheva is the second US journalist to be held in the Russian Federation after the Russian authorities arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges in March 2023. He remains in pre-trial detention.


At least 30 journalists, including Kurmasheva, were reportedly being detained in the Russian Federation and facing lengthy prison sentences as of March 2024.


Background information  

Alsu Kurmasheva, born on 1 September 1976, is an editor with RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service who has long covered ethnic minority communities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. She is a dual US and Russian citizen who lives in Prague, Czech Republic, with her husband and two children.

Scores of international organisations, including PEN America, have called for her release. PEN International has long urged the Russian authorities to repeal their draconian ‘Foreign Agents’ law, which has been used to target civil society organisations, media outlets, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists.

PEN International further condemns the Russian Federation’s war censorship laws, with anyone found guilty of spreading information about the conduct of the Russian armed forces that deviated from the official line facing up to 15 years in prison. The laws must be repealed, and all those imprisoned solely for protesting the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine must be immediately and unconditional released.

Note to Editors: For further details contact Aurélia Dondo, Head of Europe and Central Asia Region at PEN International:

Aurélia Dondo| Head of Europe and Central Asia | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Portrait of Julian Assange named as Archibald Finalist

We are very excited to share with you that Australian contemporary artist, Shaun Gladwell has been named as a Finalist in the Archibald Prize for his portrait of Julian Assange!

Gladwell describes his portrait, titled ‘A spangled symbolist portrait of Julian Assange floating in reflection’ as a protest against the political persecution, psychological torture and illegal incarceration of Julian.

Meeting the Archibald’s requirement of at least one ‘live sitting’ with the subject was a challenge for the artist as Julian remains in Belmarsh maximum-security prison, in London.

“HMP Belmarsh didn’t allow me to bring anything except £25 for the canteen. When I was refused a pencil and paper, Julian suggested I sketch him with chocolate on a spare banknote, which I did” (see the sketch translated from chocolate to wax pencil below).

Sketch of Julian Assange’s face in blue and black, drawn on a 5 pound note stuck on a white piece of paper.

Shaun Gladwell
Julian Assange preparatory sketch
Courtesy of the Artist & PALAS, Sydney.

“Despite the oppressive surroundings, it was wonderful to see Julian smile. He champions freedom, truth and peace. Let us now champion the freedom of this incredible human being,” said Gladwell.

We deeply appreciate Gladwell’s portrayal of Julian’s story in the Archibald Prize.

“It means a lot to us that Shaun [Gladwell] has been able to draw attention to Julian’s ongoing plight through art, which we are hoping will connect strongly with people’s sense of humanity, equity and hope,” said Gabriel Shipton, Julian’s brother.

Get down to the Art Gallery of New South Wales!

If you’re located in NSW, visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales to see Gladwell’s portrait and vote for it in the People’s Choice award.

For any queries, please contact the gallery via their website.

Rahile Dawut, Uyghur academic imprisoned in China

Professor Rahile Dawut is an internationally acclaimed academic, anthropologist, and a leading expert on Uyghur folklore and cultural traditions.

In December 2017, Rahile Dawut was due to travel to Beijing for an academic conference, but never reached her destination. It was widely believed that she had been disappeared by the Chinese authorities.

Despite international condemnation of her disappearance and a campaign led by her daughter calling for her release, more than three years passed before her former co-workers were able to confirm that the Chinese authorities had sentenced and imprisoned her.

In September 2023, it was widely reported that a sentence of life imprisonment on charges of endangering state security by promoting ‘splittism’, originally handed down in 2018, has now been upheld.

The following month, Rahile Dawut was announced as the winner of the PEN Pinter Prize for a Writer of Courage.

Rahile Dawut continues to be held incommunicado and her whereabouts remain unknown.

You can send a message of support to Rahile’s family at the link below:

Assange granted permission to appeal his extradition & letter from Julian’s brother Gabriel

20 May 2024: Julian Assange has been granted permission to appeal his extradition to the US, where he faces up to up 175 years in prison and would be at risk of serious human rights violations. Representatives of PEN International, English PEN, and PEN Norway observed the hearing. Responding to the news, PEN International and the undersigned PEN Centres said:

“Today’s decision by the UK High Court is a crucial step in our years-long campaign to free Julian Assange. It is a stepping stone in ensuring that Assange is freed, a small victory for press freedom, and a beacon of hope for whistleblowers worldwide.

No one should be punished for exposing wrongdoing and holding the powerful to account. By providing Assange with further opportunity to defend himself, the court has acknowledged that the assurances provided by the U.S. government are not sufficient for the extradition to be approved.

As the implications of this decision reverberate globally, reminding us of the critical importance of defending free speech, we remain acutely aware that Assange’s fight for freedom continues.

The US authorities’ judicial harassment of Assange must stop at once. We urge them to drop all charges against Assange and to withdraw their extradition request. The UK authorities must release him from prison immediately and refrain from extraditing him.

We continue to stand with Assange and all the writers, journalists, and publishers around the world who courageously speak truth to power.”


PEN International

English PEN

PEN Norway

PEN Melbourne

Background information

In a decision handed down by the UK High Court on 20 May 2024, a panel of two judges granted Assange “legal appeal on grounds 4 (violation of free speech rights) and 5 (prejudiced at trial due to nationality) on all counts on the second superseding indictment”. While Assange was given permission to attend the hearing in person, he was not in court due to health reasons.

On 26 March 2024, following a two-day public hearing held in February and attended by representatives of PEN International, English PEN and PEN Norway, the UK High Court adjourned Assange’s permission to appeal his extradition order, on the grounds that his extradition would breach his right to freedom of expression, that he might be prejudiced on account on his nationality, and that he might potentially face the death penalty. The US was subsequently granted more time to make diplomatic assurances.

Assange is the first publisher to be charged under the US Espionage Act. He is an honorary member of several PEN Centres.

For more information about PEN International’s years-long campaign for Julian Assange, please see please see War, Censorship and Persecution, PEN International’s Case List 2023/2024, which documents 122 cases of persecuted writers worldwide, including Assange.

Note to Editors:

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo, Head of Europe and Central Asia Region at PEN International:

To schedule an interview or for comments, please contact Sabrina Tucci, PEN International Communications and Campaigns Manager:

Below is an open letter addressed to Assange Campaign supporters from Gabriel Shipton, Julian’s brother.

Hi ,

Today in London, my family and I attended what we thought would be Julian’s final hearing on UK soil at the Royal Court of Justice. But what played out was far from what we’d expected – and became a huge win for the campaign. Julian has won the right to appeal the case to extradite him.


This might feel like Groundhog Day because, in some ways, it is—we just finished an appeal process and now have to start again. All because UK judges didn’t believe the US would protect Julian under the same free speech rules that apply to every US citizen.


To go this far and fail over something so symbolic is deeply embarrassing for the United States.


It reveals a political opportunity—pressure is building on the US President and Congress, and we can maintain it by urging the Australian government to question why Julian isn’t protected by the same laws as US citizens.


Right now, the team and I are heading to the airport to visit these decision-makers in the United States. Over the last few months, we’ve started to make real progress there. Recently, when pressed on it by journalists in the US, President Biden admitted that the US is actively considering Australia’s request to drop the charges against Julian.


We’re gearing up for a major new campaign in the US to intensify pressure on key decision-makers. We’ve started a new US Campaign Fund to take the campaign right to their front door—will you be one of the first to chip $50 in today? Your contribution in the next 48 hours will allow us to show just how strong, and how ready, our movement is.


I will write to update you as soon as I return from the US, telling you how it went and what is next for the US campaign. In the meantime, thank you for everything you are doing.


Gabriel Shipton,

Julian’s Brother


The jailing of David McBride is a dark day for democracy and press freedom in Australia

Tuesday 14th May, 2024

The link above is to an article in TheGuardian about the case and the court decision.
PEN Melbourne supports the petition by GETUP (below) calling for the immediate pardon of McBride.

David McBride – the whistleblower who helped expose alleged war crimes in Afghanistan – was sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in prison.1

It’s a dark day for our democracy. Today’s news means that the first person prosecuted in relation to alleged war crimes is not a perpetrator, but the whistleblower who shed light on them.

Australia’s broken laws have yet again failed to protect brave whistleblowers standing up against corruption and wrongdoing – sending a chilling message that those who dare to speak truth to power may face persecution, instead of protection.

But as we reel from this devastating blow against our democracy and our values, we can’t stop now.

Tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle ‘s criminal trial later this year is yet another stark reminder of the urgent need for reform and government intervention.2,3

Together, we must call on the Attorney-General to protect whistleblowers – starting with a pardon for David McBride and the dropping of Richard Boyle’s case.

McBride’s sentencing comes after he pleaded guilty to whistleblowing in November last year – an inevitable outcome when the court dismissed the argument that his disclosures served public interest.4

Meanwhile, Richard Boyle, who reported wrongdoing within the Australian Taxation Office, is awaiting the result of his appeal with the South Australian court. Last year, the state court ruled his whistleblowing isn’t covered by Australia’s whistleblower legislation, leaving him vulnerable and unprotected by insufficient laws.5

Whistleblowers are the backbone of a healthy, thriving democracy.

That’s why we must keep the pressure on and demand the Albanese Government intervene and prioritise reforms that truly shield those brave enough to speak out.

Whistleblowers should be protected, not prosecuted.

In solidarity,

Jane, Raisa, and Jordan – for the GetUp team!


Protect whistleblowers, not punish them!

Sign the Getup petition at the link below:

World Press Freedom Day – PEN Melbourne and RMIT

Congratulations to all the RMIT students who worked hard on their event for this World Press Freedom Day, Friday 3rd of May, at the RMIT Alumni Courtyard, Old Melbourne Gaol!

Three speeches given by students in the form of letters are included below. They are by:

Conor Misson, who writes to Julian Assange and asks the question ‘How much does truth cost?’

Maddox Gifford who writes to Mahvash Sabet a heartfelt letter about cruelty and hope.

Alex Allingham-MacLaren who writes to Selahattin Demirtas, whose example reminds him to speak freely and honestly about the time he lives in.

PEN Letter to Julian Assange – Conor Misson


Dear Julian,


How much does the truth cost?

I don’t ask you expecting an answer, I’m existentially asking the world in order to test if it really is confused.

Truth is a crime if the truth is violent and decidedly covert. Bring it to light and more violence will be done unto you. These seem to be the lessons of your penalty.

A chain of distrust, or a genealogy of distrust; is human nature supposed to be built on the instincts to dominate and cower? I also ask that existentially.

Over a decade under the microscope – how long do governments expect it takes our bodies to digest lies? Is this too many questions? I will attempt to refrain from many more.

What hope do we – Stop.

I feel – better – that hope is squandered when access to information is treated with such ferocity by the bodies that dictate the violence of our history. Lost trust in our past breeds hopelessness and aimlessness in the present that lays us at the mercy of a future we dare not imagine.

I’m speaking in codes, or metaphors, or gibberish.

I sense it is fear? Fear of honesty, fear of truth, fear of the confusion I feel in my chest, in my heart, in our governments. I hope you are not consigned to becoming an allegory that means vastly different things for those weighing down opposing ends of the political see-saw. I hope that this is history – real history – with a real ending that can give us clarity, and a way forward, an honest way forward, a hopeful way forward, an enlightened way forward, but I fear the commitment to your silencing, to the tarnishing of your right – our right – has gathered too large a force. That the strength of the tide against you is too heavy.

Still, I hope not.

I have been raised to understand the truth as an irrefutable thing, where the toll is simply our reckoning with it. Funny to consider. There should only be one definition. If the world is taught to understand that there is a horrible cost to some truths then we may never know a singular definition for truth again. We may adapt a primal instinct that halts us on the path to righteousness and warns us ‘honesty has a price’.

I honestly am scared.

How much does the truth cost? 175 years. Free Julian Assange.


Dear Mahvash Sabet,

Thinking of you, from half a world away.

I am a young person from the continent known as Australia. I have been alive for 25 years now, and only for the last 10 have I been truly aware of how cruel the world around me can be—both within this country’s borders, and beyond.

I do not need to explain this to you, nor to your daughter Negar, living now with her own daughter in Sydney, not far from where I am writing this in Melbourne; I can only imagine how she must miss you, how full of fearful love her heart must be to think of you. It hurts my own heart, to think of a grandmother, leader, and teacher like you, locked away in a cold cell.

I have always loved and respected my teachers. I yearned to learn more about the world, about life, and there seemed to me no greater repositories of wisdom—except maybe for my father, a world-weary man who worked as a fishmonger, but who always had poetry in him.

It pains me to know that you have been kept from your teaching for so long, since even before arrest and incarceration. But it gladdens my heart to read of how poetry has served you in prison—first as a means to reach out to family, but then as a way to process all that pain and alienation for yourself. To transform it. And, perhaps, to find some beauty in the small world still left to you inside those walls?

I came to poetry quite early, myself, and to activism later on. Often I have found that the more aware I become of atrocities occurring around the world, the more misery I witness in those around me, the harder it is to write. It feels as though that well of compassion and curiosity, from which all good writing draws, is running dry. How it is that, from your jail cell, you have been able to dredge up new depths of humanity from this reservoir, I have no idea. I am in awe of it.

I see suffering around me—but I also see joy. Is there joy, where you are? Little moments snatched from the jaws of despair, every day? I think that there must be, or else how would you survive?

I wonder if that is what poetry is. Small moments of something pure, be it joy or pain or love—little threads, painstakingly pulled from the misery of mundanity, woven into words with meaning.

Never lose meaning. Never lose heart. Never lose hope that you will be free once more, as you have been before.

Wishing you well,


Dear Selahattin,


I am writing to you from Melbourne, Australia, where I am a student, husband and father. It is Autumn here – the weather is slowly turning cold. The year unfurls. I try to imagine how it is to be kept out of the weather as you are, to be kept out of time. I know you have found yourself as a writer – maybe you can imagine yourself into the world that way.


I wrote to tell you that when I read your words or imagine you writing at your desk I am brought back to myself – reminded of perseverance, tenacity and courage, recalled to truth. I am reminded to speak freely and honestly about the time I live in and the turning seasons.


As time unwinds for us all, I hope you can see your place in it from where you are – inestimable, vital, honoured and known.


With respect and care,



Defend Press Freedom Amidst Israel’s War on Gaza: World Press Freedom Day 2024

Defend Press Freedom Amidst Israel’s War on Gaza: World Press Freedom Day 2024

“Amid the mounting death toll, destruction, and reports of harrowing atrocities, journalists in Gaza risk their lives and limbs to cover the war. Deliberately targeting journalists, and indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure journalists, amount to war crimes. All those responsible must be held to account. Protecting press freedom and ensuring the safety of journalists is fundamental during times of war and essential in providing the public with accurate and timely information.” Burhan Sonmez, PEN International President


It has been over six months since the relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israel’s military began in response to a Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October 2023. With damning evidence of international human rights law violations and war crimes, the toll on journalists’ lives and the erosion of press freedom in Gaza and across the region have reached unprecedented levels.

Will you take action?

On World Press Freedom Day, contact your country’s Head of Government/Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging immediate action to protect journalists and ensure unfettered reporting on the war on Gaza. Ask them to:

  • Publicly call on all parties to the conflict to ensure journalists’ safety and to promptly and thoroughly investigate all attacks on journalists.
  • Call on the Israeli authorities to stop the indiscriminate and deliberate killing of journalists.
  • Call on the Israeli and Egyptian authorities to provide international journalists with independent access to Gaza, and ensure the safe departure from Gaza of journalists seeking to evacuate.
  • Support swift, transparent, and independent investigations into the killing of all journalists and an end to the longstanding pattern of impunity in the killings of journalists by the Israeli forces.
  • Publicly call for an immediate ceasefire in order to protect all civilians, including journalists.


Read more about press freedom amidst

War, Censorship and Persecution: PEN International Case List 2023/2024 documents how since 7 October, journalists in Gaza and across the region have faced unprecedented hostilities, intimidation, and harassment, posing significant challenges to their reporting and lives.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 97 journalists and media workers have been killed between 7 October 2023 and 25 April 2024: 92 Palestinian, two Israeli, and three Lebanese, marking the deadliest period for journalists on record. In addition, 16 journalists were reported injured, four missing and 25 arrested. CPJ notably raised concerns about an apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military.

In Gaza, Al Jazeera bureau chief Wael Al-Dahdouh was injured in a drone attack in December 2023. Prior, he lost his wife, son, daughter, and grandson in an Israeli airstrike in October. In January 2024, he lost his eldest son, journalist Hamza Al-Dahdouh, along with his colleague  Mustafa Thuraya, in a missile attack on their car in southern Gaza.

In November, Anas al-Sharif, a reporter and videographer for Al-Jazeera Arabic, reported receiving threats via phone from Israeli authorities, instructing him to stop his coverage and leave northern Gaza. In December, his family house was bombed by Israeli planes resulting in the death of his elderly father.

In Lebanon, according to a Reuters investigation, journalist Issam Abdallah was killed, and six others from Al Jazeera, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters were injured by Israeli tank shells in October, despite wearing marked journalists’ attire.

In the West Bank, press freedom organisations reported a spike in arrests and intimidation of Palestinian journalists since 7 October, with many journalists facing arbitrary administrative detention, harassment and intimidation by Israeli forces.

Mustafa Sheta, a researcher, journalist, and producer at the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp, was arrested during a raid on the theatre in December 2023 during which Israeli forces destroyed its offices, and later stormed the houses of three of its members. Israeli soldiers interrogated Sheta about his political activities during his detention. Despite no charges being filed, an Israeli military court ordered his administrative detention for six months on 31 December.

In Israel, Alaraby TV reporter Ahmed Darawsha faced threats from an armed police officer while reporting live from Ashdod in October. On the same day, BBC journalists Muhannad Tutunji and Haitham Abudiab, along with their BBC Arabic team, were assaulted and held at gunpoint by Israeli police in Tel Aviv. Also in October, Israeli journalist Israel Frey was forced  to flee his home and seek refuge after being attacked by an extremist mob for expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and criticizing Israeli authorities’ actions during the conflict.

Since 7 October, Israel has tightened its siege on Gaza preventing international journalists from covering the conflict on the ground. Those allowed access have been embedded with the Israeli military, which severely limits their reporting. These restrictions have significantly curtailed both press freedoms and the public’s access to information.

In February 2024, PEN International welcomed the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures intended to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza, including, among others, preserving evidence of crimes committed in the region, under the Genocide Convention.

Safeguarding journalists is vital both in conflict situations and wars, and in times of peace, as they play a crucial role in providing the public with accurate and timely information, documenting hostilities, and reporting on war crimes and human rights violations. Additionally, journalists are instrumental in upholding independent flow of information, supporting transparency, and holding authorities to account. Urgent measures are required to ensure journalists’ safety and enable unrestricted reporting in Gaza and beyond.








Share ask in confirmation slide

MaThida in conversation with Michelle Aung Thin on 6 June

MaThida in conversation with Michelle Aung Thin, Thursday 6 June at The Wheeler Centre. Bookings necessary.

On Thursday 6 June, PEN Melbourne hosts an event with MaThida, author and Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, a position she knows only too well having been imprisoned in appalling conditions from 1993 until 1999.  MaThida was sentenced to 20 years in Insein Prison for endangering public peace, having contact with illegal organisations, and distributing unlawful literature. Thida had been actively supporting Aung San Suu Kyi and is a prolific writer.
In 2016 Thida’s prison memoir was published; Prisoner of Conscience: My Steps through Insein Prison.
Her most recent book is A-maze:  While the Myanmar people have walked miles after miles, over hills after hills, and through pits after pits, their treasured destination of democracy remains far out of sight. But it will also describe how the 2021 Spring Revolution continues to soar relentlessly ahead, tearing down walls of this wretched maze despite being led into corner after corner. A-maze speaks to questions such as how has the Spring Revolution maintained its momentum? And most importantly, how are the Myanmar people

marching on towards their dream of democracy?

Toomaj Salehi Facing Death Penalty in IRAN

Toomaj Salehi and another political prisoner must be freed immediately
He is an undisputed representative of courage and resistance against oppression among the young generation of Iran.
As an exiled Iranian writer who has been saying “NO” to the Iranian despotic Islamic regime, I am profoundly concerned about the life and well-being of the Iranian musician rapper Toomaj Salehi, who has been sentenced to death by the Iranian Islamic regime. According to the Islamic regime, Tooamj’s only crime is telling the truth by speaking up against its unjust and murderous treatment of oppressed Iranian people through his music, as well as fearlessly supporting Women. Life. Freedom movement. Toomaj was one of those Iranians who, immediately after the tragic death of Mahsa Amini by the regime’s morality police, tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights at the beginning of Woman. Life. Freedom
This Islamic regime in Iran has inflicted a great deal of pain and suffering by tutoring Toomaj and now has condemned him to death. This decision is not only an attack on the life of this brave artist as an individual but also on freedom of expression and the right to public expression, which the Islamic regime has denied Iranians over the last 45 years. No citizen must be punished for speaking their mind, let alone arrested, interrogated, imprisoned, and put to death because they speak out against oppression and injustices in their countries.
Please watch and listen to some of his profound and courageous statements.



April 24, 2024 – A death sentence issued in Iran against dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi underscores the glaring unlawfulness and injustice of the Islamic Republic’s judicial system, which has been weaponized and used as a tool by the state security forces to crush dissent and perpetuate political repression, said the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“Not only was Toomaj imprisoned for participating in a peaceful protest, but now a lower court, acting as a willful instrument of the state’s security apparatus, has unlawfully sentenced him to death, disregarding the supreme court’s decision to overturn the initial verdict of a prison sentence,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.

“This grotesque manipulation of the judicial process aims to silence dissent,” Ghaemi continued. “Toomaj’s imprisonment stems from his vocal advocacy against state oppression. It is imperative that supporters of free speech and dissent unite to demand his immediate release.”

In an interview with the Shargh daily in Iran, on April 24, 2024, one of Toomaj’s lawyers, Amir Raesian, noted that in sentencing Toomaj to death on the charge of “corruption of earth,” Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Isfahan “in an unprecedented action, did not comply with the Supreme Court’s overturning of Toomaj Salehi’s [prison sentence on the charge of ‘corruption on earth’], calling it a ‘guidance,’ and instead, emphasizing the independence of the lower court, sentenced Toomaj Salehi to the harshest punishment, i.e. death, on the charge of corruption on earth.”

Raesian added that the court, after considering the charges of aiding in rebellion, assembly and collusion [against national security], propaganda against the state, and inciting riots, the subjects of Articles and 286 of the Islamic Penal Code, “emphasized that the wide extent of corruption had been ascertained and issued the death sentence against Mr. Salehi” but that previously “this court branch did not conclude that acts of corruption on earth had taken place.”

“But the strangest thing is that in addition to the death penalty, the court sentenced Toomaj Salehi to a two-year ban on leaving the country, two-year ban on artistic activities and participation in behavior management classes in the Isfahan judiciary,” he added. “The court also enforced an earlier suspended sentence against Toomaj Salehi.”

“We will definitely lodge an appeal,” said Raesian.

Imprisoned for Engaging in Dissent, Facing Death for Refusing to be Silent

In his first trial, Salehi was sentenced to 18 years and 3 months of imprisonment for the charge of “corruption on earth,” for which he would have to serve more than 6 years and 3 months.

In an interview with CHRI, Saeid Dehghan, a human rights lawyer who spent years defending dissidents and political prisoners in Iran and the director and founder of Parsi Law, explained how the ruling has violated fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic’s own judicial system.

“Firstly, the revolutionary court was obliged to adhere to the decisions of the Supreme Court and couldn’t issue a death sentence. Secondly, it couldn’t add two more supplementary punishments instead of reducing the charges from 6 to 3. Thirdly, it couldn’t bring all other accusations, including propaganda, assembly, and collusion, under the guise of corruption on earth,” he said.

“The reason for issuing this verdict, violating all these fundamental laws, is simply because the head of the first branch of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court is also the chief of the Isfahan Provincial Revolutionary Court and takes orders from senior security authorities, especially the Revolutionary Guards,” added Dehghan.

“In other words, the same organization that orchestrated the security scenario against this young rapper is the one dictating the sentence,” he said.

Salehi, aged 34, is known in Iran for his courageous stance as an underground rapper who fearlessly confronts human rights violations and political repression in the Islamic Republic through his music.

Hailing from Shahin Shahr in Isfahan Province, Salehi has spent the majority of the past 19 months behind bars. His ordeal began with his arrest in October 2022 by agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence organization for participating in widespread anti-state protests known as the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement.

In July 2023, Salehi was handed a sentence of 18 years and 3 months in prison on charges of “corruption on earth.” This charge, often used to stifle dissent, carries severe penalties, including the death penalty. Salehi’s supposed “crimes” were tied to the content of his lyrics, which scrutinized state policies, including ethnic discrimination and insufficient legal protections for child laborers, as well as his involvement in a street protest.

Granted bail on November 18, 2023, while his case was referred to a lower court in Isfahan, Salehi’s freedom was short-lived. Less than two weeks later, on November 30, he was rearrested by plainclothes agents armed with “Kalashnikovs and handguns” after publicly disclosing the torture he endured while in state custody.

“Despite blatant legal violations, Toomaj’s life hangs in the balance,” Ghaemi said.

“The world’s silence in response to this blatant effort to silence dissent against Toomaj and anyone daring to challenge the Islamic Republic will only embolden further rights abuses by the state security apparatus,” he said.

For interviews, contact our Media Department

Visit our website: