Dissident rapper arrested during Iran protests needs ‘urgent’ treatment: Rights group

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A rapper arrested in October on capital charges in Iran’s crackdown on nationwide protests needs urgent medical treatment, a rights group said Thursday, urging an international campaign for his release.

The New-York based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also said Toomaj Salehi was being deprived of his right to a fair defense in his trial, for which a date has yet to be set.

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Salehi, 33, faces charges related to the protests that could see him sentenced to death. He is being held in solitary confinement in Dastgerd prison in central Iran, the rights group said.

The rapper had won prominence in Iran with his work that was heavily focused on social issues, and had strongly backed the nationwide protests that erupted in mid-September.

“He is in urgent need of intense and coordinated international pressure for his freedom, as are the many other detainees and political prisoners in Iran,” said CHRI executive director Hadi Ghaemi.

The group said sources close to Toomaj inside Iran -- who it could not identify for security reasons -- said the rapper “required urgent medical treatment that cannot be provided from within the prison.”

There had been alarm in the immediate aftermath of his arrest when state media published a video purporting to show the rapper blindfolded, with bruising on his face, apologizing for his support of the protests.

One of the sources told the CHRI Salehi was “severely tortured” during the first days of his detention, with his left eye badly damaged due to blows to the head and his right ankle broken.

It said the family could not take him to hospital for an examination.

“We are very concerned about the severity and extent of his injuries,” the source added.

The CHRI said Salehi, who is charged with the capital offence of “corruption on earth”, has been denied a lawyer of his choice and denied the right to prepare a proper defense.

The Iran protests began in mid-September after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian Kurd who had been arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women.

Four men have been executed in protest-related cases in what activists have described as “show trials.”

According to Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR), at least 537 people have been killed by security forces in the crackdown on the protests.

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