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Rep. Young Kim

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Friday targeting Iranian officials involved in the prosecution and death sentence of a rapper who came to fame for his lyrics about the 2022 death of an Iranian woman and his criticism of the Islamic Republic.

The proposal would impose sanctions on the judges, prosecutors and investigators of Iran’s Revolutionary Courts in response to Tehran’s continuing crackdown against dissenters — including rapper Toomaj Salehi — after years of mass protests in the country. It would also codify into law that the U.S. views any judgments issued by Iran’s courts against political prisoners as violations of human rights.

“Toomaj Salehi has used his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and bravely speak out against the Iran regime’s torture, abuse, and crackdown against the free will of the Iranian people,” Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Unfortunately, he is just the latest victim of the regime’s cruelty.”

She added that the bill — titled the TOOMAJ Act — will allow the U.S. “to stand side by side with Toomaj and other peaceful protesters demanding basic human rights and take targeted action against the Iran regime.”

It marks the latest congressional action against the Islamic Republic in recent months as Democratic and Republican lawmakers have united in decrying the country’s human rights record as well as its role in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, including the Israel-Hamas war. Leading the legislative effort with Kim are Reps. David Trone, D-Md., Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., and Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

News of the death sentence ordered against 33-year-old Salehi by a Revolutionary Court in Isfahan, a central Iranian city, came down in late April. A lawyer for the rapper confirmed the sentence to The Associated Press as Iranian officials have yet to publicly announce it. Revolutionary Courts in Iran often involve closed-door hearings, secret evidence and few rights for those on trial.

Salehi’s lawyer, Amir Raisian, told AP last month that he planned to file an appeal in his client’s case. The sentencing comes months after the artist was released from prison in mid-November after spending more than a year in custody. He faces charges, including “spreading corruption on the Earth” that his supporters say stem from the hip-hop artist’s music and participation in the protests that broke out in Iran over the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police after being detained for wearing her hijab too loosely.

United Nations investigators have said that Iran was responsible for Amini’s death and that it violently put down largely peaceful protests in a monthslong security crackdown that killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

Salehi was arrested again a few weeks after his release following a video message that he posted about being tortured during his time in prison. State media at the time released a video showing him blindfolded and apologizing for his words.

He had put out several songs and music videos where he rapped about Amini, singing in one video, “Someone’s crime was dancing with her hair in the wind.” His music also veered into heavy criticism of the Islamic regime, going as far as predicting the downfall of Iran’s theocracy.

“Your whole past is dark, the government that took the light out of the eyes. … We go from the bottom of the pyramid and knock to the top. … Forty-four years of your government, this is the year of failure,” one verse said.

Other targets of his music have included the all-volunteer Basij wing of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Toomaj Salehi was wrongfully sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Iran. His crime? Calling for accountability for the Iranian regime through music,” Schiff said in a statement.

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