Iran: Imprisoned for their art; artists call for musician’s and filmmaker’s release

imprisonerd for their art

Two Iranian artists will have been in prison for a full year on 5 June, sentenced for their peaceful artistic expressions. Today, artists and supporters of artistic freedom from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East called for their release in a public letter sent by Freemuse and the Center for Human Rights in Iran to the newly re-elected Iranian 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,” the artists said in the letter. “We call on the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian and all other artists imprisoned for their creative expressions.”

The 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.

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 5 June 2016.

During the artists’ imprisonment in Evin Prison their medical conditions have significantly deteriorated. The two artists have twice been on hunger strike to protest the lack of medical attention and their ill treatment.

In a letter from prison last year, the brothers 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.”

Iran in 2016 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 total, Freemuse registered 39 violations of artistic freedom of expression in Iran in 2016.

“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 United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, have called for the brothers’ immediate release.

“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.