Prominent Iranian rapper Toomaj arrested again by regime forces, his whereabouts unknown

Prominent Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, an outspoken critic of the Iranian regime, has been arrested again less than two weeks after being freed on bail, after spending more than a year in prison, according to a close confidante.

Arrest comes days after video released detailing abuse he says he suffered in custody

A man with dark hair and facial hair, wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and a silver necklace, poses for a portrait under an underpass.
Dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi is shown at an undisclosed location in Iran in this undated image. The outspoken critic of the Iranian regime has been arrested again, less than two weeks after being released on bail, after spending more than a year in prison, a close confidante says. (Submitted by Negin Niknaam)

Less than two weeks after being freed on bail, prominent Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi has been arrested again.

The outspoken critic of the Iranian regime previously spent a year and 21 days in detention, including 252 days in solitary confinement, in Isfahan Central Prison in Iran.

The initial account of his rearrest came from Negin Niknaam, the rapper's closest confidante.

On Thursday afternoon in the northern Iranian city of Babol, she said, several unidentified plainclothes agents armed with handguns and Kalashnikovs attacked the car that Toomaj and his friends were travelling in.

Niknaam, who spoke with eyewitnesses, said the rapper was beaten repeatedly with the butts of guns and detained along with his friends, who were later released.

"Several men on motorbikes were also aggressively screaming to scare the public away, so that no one would interfere with Toomaj being taken," she said.

"Where is Toomaj? We still don't know where he is," Niknaam said, as neither his family nor his lawyer have received any news on his condition or whereabouts.

Toomaj gained the nickname "Lion of Iran'' among compatriots and simultaneously became a continuous target for authorities for his songs and outspoken criticism of the regime.

He was arrested on Oct. 30, 2022, among the first to be detained during historic protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody three days after being arrested by Iran's morality police for allegedly failing to properly wear a headscarf.

During the months-long protests, more than 20,000 people were arrested and at least 500 were killed by security forces.

WATCH | Toomaj spoke with CBC News in June about protests in Iran:

Iran's protest movement will only grow, says Toomaj

1 year ago
Duration 2:32
Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi talks to CBC News about what’s happening in his country.

'Regime seems to be that afraid of one video'

Activists and advocates maintain Toomaj was detained again because of a recent video message he filmed for Iranians and his fans. The video, viewed more than half a million times, was Toomaj's first public address since he was freed on bail on Nov. 18.

For almost 15 minutes, he spoke bluntly and in detail about the torture — physical and mental — he says he endured at the hands of regime authorities since his arrest in 2022.

"I was tortured severely at the time of the arrest. They broke my hands and legs. They beat me a lot in my face and head. I tried to stop the punches with my hands, so my fingers broke ... and it was over a very lengthy period," Toomaj said.

WATCH | Toomaj says he was 'tortured severely' during 2022 arrest in Iran: 

He also outlined medical procedures he needs to undergo due to injuries he sustained during his time in prison, including leg surgery and teeth replacements.

His political sponsor, German parliamentarian Ye-One Rhie, demanded that authorities in Iran reveal his whereabouts immediately and said Toomaj was arrested again because he openly talked about what happened to him.

"Since the regime seems to be that afraid of one video, we should spread it now more than ever. So that everybody knows what he wanted us all to know," she said.

Rapper filed legal complaints over treatment

The Iranian regime's judiciary news agency Mizan claims the rapper was rearrested for spreading false claims on social media and for falsely claiming that he has launched legal complaints against authorities.

Toomaj's lawyer subsequently took to social media, publishing the documents of the legal complaints that were filed weeks ago by the rapper.

"These documents are being published because after three days of Toomaj's arrest, we have not had any contact from him and we are not aware of his whereabouts," Amir Raesian said.

The complaints primarily deal with the lengthy torture Toomaj says he endured on the day of his arrest, as well as lies the rapper says were spread about him by the regime's media agencies.

Niknaam said Toomaj's latest arrest is the regime's way of forcing and pressuring the rapper to retract his legal complaints.

"All this violence by the regime aims to suppress society. The Islamic Republic bears the responsibility for Toomaj's life. Any harm that is inflicted on him now, they are responsible for it," she said.

While it's unclear where the rapper is being held, this weekend marks his second-consecutive birthday in the custody of regime authorities. He turns 33 on Sunday.


Nahayat Tizhoosh

Freelance contributor

Nahayat Tizhoosh is a freelance journalist formerly with CBC News Network's Power & Politics.