Artists, Activists Send Letter to Rouhani Demanding Release of Imprisoned Music Producers
June 1, 2017—Two Iranian artists will have been behind bars for a full year as of June 5, sentenced for their peaceful artistic activities. Today, artists and supporters of artistic freedom from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East called for their release in an open letter sent by Freemuse and the Center for Human Rights in Iran to newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani.
“The continued imprisonment of Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian is unacceptable and in complete violation of international human rights laws ratified by Iran,” said the signatories. “We call on the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian and all other artists imprisoned for their creative expressions.”
“Rouhani must fulfill the demands of Iran’s artistic community, which strongly supported his re-election,” said CHRI’s Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
“He can start by freeing imprisoned artists, including music producers Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian, both sentenced to three years in prison during a 15-minute trial for peacefully engaging in their profession,” added Ghaemi.
The Rajabian brothers were managing partners of Barg Music, a now-banned popular digital music production and distribution service, when they were first arrested in October 2013 by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization and held in solitary confinement for more than two months.
“Iranian authorities continue to intimidate, persecute, imprison and ban artists. This is a clear violation of international law and President Rouhani has to stop this and bring Iran on par with other countries on its record on freedom of expression,” said Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat.
The Revolutionary Court sentenced the two artists to six years in prison each in May 2015 for “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state”. Their sentence was reduced to three years in prison upon appeal. Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian started serving their sentences on June 5, 2016.
During the artists’ imprisonment in Evin Prison, their medical conditions have significantly deteriorated. The Rajabian brothers have twice been on hunger strike to protest the lack of medical attention and theirill treatment.
In a letter from prison last year, they wrote: “We urge all artists from around the world to show their protest and criticism against all of this, in a peaceful way, worthy of an artist. Stand by our side and [don’t] forget us, because being forgotten is a human’s greatest pain.”
In 2016, Iran more than tripled the amount of artists it imprisoned or detained in comparison to 2015 – from six to 19, according to Freemuse’s annual report, “Art Under Threat.” In 2016, Freemuse documented 39 violations of artistic freedom of expression in Iran.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye, have also called for the brothers’ immediate release.
Notes: The letter is part of Freemuse’s global campaign, Art is Not a Crime.
Trailer for Hossein Rajabian’s film, “The Upside Down Triangle.”
Video of Mehdi Rajabian’s Setaar music.
Freemuse is an independent, international organization advocating and defending the right to artistic freedom worldwide.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in Iran.