Iran protests: As rapper Toomaj Salehi and Nika Shakarami, 16, have discovered, being young and opinionated can lead to a death sentence – Struan Stevenson

The UK and EU should follow the US Senate and impose strong sanctions on the brutal Iranian regime

In the same week as an explosive leaked document from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) revealed the murder in custody of a 16-year-old girl, a revolutionary court in Isfahan sentenced a young rapper to death for making a fool of the regime in his lyrics. The combined scandal has exposed the theocratic regime’s toxic anti-youth culture.

The leaked IRGC document – extensively analysed and verified by the BBC – shows how the teenage girl Nika Shakarami was involved in the nationwide protests in September 2022, following the death of the young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was beaten to death in custody by Tehran’s notorious ‘morality police’ for not wearing her hijab properly.

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Nika was seen standing on a dumpster in central Tehran on September 20, setting fire to hijabs, while the crowd around her chanted slogans like “death to the dictator” in reference to the hated Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Little did she know that she was under surveillance by an IRGC undercover unit, several of whom had penetrated the crowd of protesters. They identified her as a leader of the protests and arrested her.

Protesters in Berlin call for Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, sentenced to death for mocking the Iranian regime in his songs and supporting the popular protests against them, to be freed (Picture: Babak Bordbar/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)Protesters in Berlin call for Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, sentenced to death for mocking the Iranian regime in his songs and supporting the popular protests against them, to be freed (Picture: Babak Bordbar/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters in Berlin call for Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, sentenced to death for mocking the Iranian regime in his songs and supporting the popular protests against them, to be freed (Picture: Babak Bordbar/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)
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Sexually assaulted and beaten to death

Nika’s hands were handcuffed behind her back, and she was thrown into an undercover freezer van guarded by three agents, led by their team leader who sat up front with the driver. According to the “highly confidential” IRGC report, Nika shouted and swore at her guards, who took her to several detention centres which refused to admit her as they were either overcrowded or feared her behaviour could provoke a riot amongst other detainees.

Finally, the team decided to take her to the infamous Evin Prison and attempted to gag her by stuffing a pair of socks in her mouth. One of her guards sat on top of Nika to stop her struggling and, according to the report, put his hand inside her trousers, sexually assaulting the 16-year-old. This provoked Nika to struggle violently and the three men then beat her to death with their batons and dumped her body in a quiet side street.

The mullahs’ government later stated that she had killed herself by jumping off a bridge, a lie strongly refuted by her parents, who found her badly disfigured body nine days later in a mortuary. Despite an IRGC hearing into Nika’s murder, none of those involved have been held accountable. According to an Instagram post by her mother, Nika’s elder sister Aida has now also been arrested by the ‘morality police’, accused of not covering her hair properly. She remains in custody.

Nika was one of more than 750 people killed by the IRGC and their Basij militia thugs during the uprising in 2022-23. More than 30,000 protesters were arrested, and many have subsequently been tortured, raped and executed. The Guidance Patrol or ‘morality police’ tour the streets of Iran’s towns and cities in distinctive green and white vans, with teams of black chador-clad women who pounce on any girl or woman showing hair beneath her veil or hijab.

‘Perverted hairstyles’

The Guidance Patrol’s numbers have increased dramatically since the nationwide uprising. It is controlled by a hardliner, Ahmadreza Radan, who is chief of police and head of the regime’s Law Enforcement Command (Faraja in Farsi) uniformed police force. Radan was appointed by Khamenei in a desperate attempt to quell another insurgency. He forged his career in the Basij and IRGC, the mullahs’ Gestapo. His renowned brutality in crushing dissidents and his unconditional allegiance to the regime’s Supreme Leader won him this top job.

Radan has been encouraging the morality police to crack down on women who fail to cover their hair properly with their hijabs or otherwise violate the strict Islamic dress code, or boys who sport non-Islamic haircuts. In an infamous TV interview, he threatened to arrest and punish boys with “perverted hairstyles”. “These boys will be taken to the police stations, their families will be summoned, and after making a pledge to make their sons behave, the families take their children to a barbershop to get a regular haircut,” he said.

The inhumanity of the misogynistic regime’s attitude to youth and, in particular, to women is now the subject of a United Nations’ investigation. In a 42-page report submitted to the UN’s Human Rights Council, Javaid Rehman, the Special UN Rapporteur on Iran, accused the theocratic regime of crimes against humanity, barbarity, and repression. Mr Rehman said the regime was guilty of “murder, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts, that have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population”.

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Brutality of repression backfiring

Determined to crackdown on all forms of conduct, dress, or entertainment that the elderly, bearded mullahs regard as anti-Islamic, the IRGC and their Basij thugs now routinely arrest female students who post Instagram videos of themselves dancing or singing. The celebrated and popular 33-year-old rapper Toomaj Salehi was initially sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in 2022 for supporting protests against the regime with lyrics that said: “Have you not suffocated us (and) f***ed us up enough? How is it going, ‘superior economy?’ How is it going, ‘regional power?’… Hey, ‘the most respected passport’; how are your borders?”

He has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest and claims to have been tortured. At the end of April, his charge of “corrupting the earth” was referred to the revolutionary court in Isfahan which sentenced him to death by hanging. Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said: “Salehi’s voice amplifies the aspirations of the Iranian people and all those silenced by the regime.”

There are increasing signs that the brutal repression of women and young people by the mullahs has backfired. Resistance units are burgeoning across Iran, with crowds of protesters chanting “Women, Resistance, Freedom” and demanding the overthrow of the theocratic regime and the installation of a secular, democratic republic.

Their fight for freedom has been recognised abroad. Last month the US Senate adopted the Mahsa Act by 79 votes to 18. Named after the young Kurdish martyr Mahsa Amini, the Act is one of the strongest pieces of condemnatory legislation against the mullahs’ regime ever implemented and imposes Draconian sanctions against the Supreme Leader, the president and hundreds of other politicians, civil servants, businesses and industries who do business with Iran. It is time the EU and UK followed America’s lead.

Struan Stevenson, a former member of the European Parliament, is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change and chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. His latest book is entitled Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran – A Contemporary History.

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