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From the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now (IEC)

Cheers to Undaunted Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof 

Wave of Prominent Voices Rise to Stop Execution of Toomaj Salehi editors’ note: We received the following from the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now (IEC).

What I can observe from my own story is that the satisfaction that you receive once you resist oppression and despotism can be higher than the price you have to pay. 

—Mohammad Rasoulof1 

Drawing of Mohammad Rasoulof by


Drawing of Mohammad Rasoulof by   

In an industry where award ceremonies are often celebrations of self, money and a culture of mind-numbing hedonism, Iranian director and screenwriter Mohammad Rasoulof stands out from the crowd. His entire presence at the Cannes Film Festival in late May—and the premiere of The Seed of the Sacred Fig, his latest film—was an inspiring call to challenge the rule of an oppressive system based on terror and executions. 

One of the world’s most critically acclaimed independent film directors, Rasoulof had just recently escaped Iran—on foot. An Islamic court had sentenced him to eight years in prison, flogging (i.e., whipping), and confiscation of his property for “collusion against national security.” With his passport confiscated since 2017, he walked across a mountainous border for 28 days, hidden and guided by people he had met during his two former stints in Iran’s prisons. 

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Camaraderie and Courage among Iran’s Most Wanted Artists

L-R: Mohammad Rasoulof, Toomaj Salehi, Jafar Panahi.


Camaraderie and Courage among Iran’s Most Wanted Artists: Toomaj, flanked by world-renowned Iranian filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof (left) and Jafar Panahi (right).    Photo: IG @Jafar.Panahi

Rasoulof used his powerful platform at Cannes to bravely speak up for others who continue to make movies, music, and art under risky conditions in Iran’s oppressive Islamic theocracy. In accepting the Special Jury Prize for The Seed of the Sacred Fig (watch on Instagram), he spotlighted the urgent case of Toomaj Salehi. In an interview with Variety, he said, “Right now, not just the crew of this film, but many other artists are being harassed and put in jail. Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi has been sentenced to death just for singing some songs. This is something that cannot be accepted, and no one can remain silent in front of such behaviour.”

One of the participants in a flash mob action for the freedom of then-imprisoned Iranian directors Mohammad Rasoulof and Jafar Panahi, on the red carpet at the September 2023 Venice Film festival was Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri.


One of the participants in a flash mob action for the freedom of then-imprisoned Iranian directors Mohammad Rasoulof and Jafar Panahi, on the red carpet at the September 2023 Venice Film festival was Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri.     Graphic: MiddleEastMatters

During Toomaj’s brief release on bail last November 18, two of Iran’s most renowned and persecuted filmmakers, Jafar Panahi, along with Rasoulof, not only met with him, but took a picture together that was then widely circulated. Toomaj was violently rearrested (November 30) shortly after releasing a video (November 27) about this brutal torture by prison authorities. He was sentenced to death in late April 2024. Rasoulof putting Toomaj’s case before millions at Cannes is not only needed but truly heroic and admirable. Rasoulof was acting in concert with a rising tide of protests worldwide in the last 6 weeks, especially among artists and public intellectuals, to stop the execution of Toomaj. This wave of protests may account for the prison authorities reinstating a phone card in late May so that he could finally have a phone call with his lawyer.

Stop the Execution of Toomaj and All Prisoners

Rasoulof has issued a bold artistic protest against executions in Iran, including of its political prisoners, in his award-winning 2020 film There is No Evil (available on Prime or YouTube). It was cleverly filmed in secret and banned in Iran. Its insightful as well as inciteful four interwoven stories challenge the morality of those who follow orders to murder others for a day’s pay or a weekend pass. It shows the joy of rebellion asking the viewer to weigh the costs and sacrifices required that might not be welcomed by others. These are all very live questions for Rasoulof, for Toomaj, and really the people of this planet at this hour. This tremendously moving and often exciting film raises profound questions for our times. It revolves around the horror of the death penalty under Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime, which executed at least 853 people in 2023, as reported by the human rights NGO Amnesty International. Its central theme is the devastating nature of the choice by each individual to bow to unjust laws and authorities (carry out the order to kill) or to refuse with all the consequences. However, the movie shows that there is a larger system which dictates the parameters of this choice. The movie also suggests that there are people who are organizing and agitating against the authorities. In some ways it portends the Woman, Life, Freedom (WLF) uprising two years later and today’s budding mass movement across Iran of weekly prison hunger strikes on “No Execution Tuesdays” that is entering its 19th week.

Groundswell Worldwide to Stop the Execution and Free Toomaj

Free Toomaj protests in several cities


Since April 24, there has been an outpouring of Free Toomaj statements, resolutions, interviews, podcasts from artists, arts and human rights organizations, and many, many thousands of his fansmost who see this threat to Toomaj as tied to the Islamic Republic trying to snuff out resistance to the oppression of women in general, to rebellious currents among the youth, and to the WLF uprising in particular. There has been a global outpouring of real love and support for Toomaj. Below is a partial list:

The last week of April 2024:’s statement, signed by prominent public intellectuals including Judith Butler, Ariel Dorfman, and Shirin Ebadi, who were also signers of IEC’s Emergency Appeal first issued and published in 2020 titled “The Lives of Iran’s Political Prisoners Hang in the Balance, We Must ACT Now!”. In late April, major U.S. publications ran stories about Toomaj’s death sentence, some more than one article. And there has been a lot of subsequent coverage as prominent artists issued their statements: VarietyRolling StoneDeadline HollywoodPeter Gabriel in SpinThe Guardian, the New York Times, Washington Post call Toomaj an icon in Iran. Other major media with significant coverage—NPR, CNN, BBC, LeMonde, Die Welt, France24—was then picked up by thousands of local channels and outlets in the U.S. and Europe, and around the world, including in Ghana, South Africa, Pakistan, India, etc. 

One of the Iranian Diaspora’s most famous pop singers, Ebrahim Hamedi (@Ebi), posted against Toomaj’s death sentence to his 11.4 million followers. Mehdi Yarrahi, a popular singer who is in Iran and out on bail, tweeted at great risk to himself, “Release my brother unconditionally, or the smoke of this fire will burn your eyes.” 

NYC HipHop station Hot 97 did a piece that was picked up by others in the U.S. including rappers ecosystem and hip hop artist/activist Meek Mill who tweeted to his 11 million followers. Two Italian singers, Tananai and Ermal Meta, used their sets in larger concerts to speak about Toomaj, and an Iranian actor in Italy, Ashkan Khatibi,  dedicated a theater performance to Toomaj. The Grammy Recording Academy demanded Free Toomaj/No Execution in a statement that brought Toomaj (and objectively the WLF uprising) to the networked world of musicians and garnered a lot of major press. Renowned author and activist Cornel West tweeted to Free Toomaj, saying there needs to be “moral consistency” about oppression in the world. Statements from human rights groups and individuals included Amnesty InternationalPEN America, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

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 Recent actions for Toomaj inside Iran. Post reads, loosely, “There’s no way we’ll stop until you’re in charge. #ToomajSalehi”

#FreeToomaj Echoes from Cannes to Colombia in Month of May

In early May, @QuemarlaJaula in Colombia held a “Jornada Cultural por Toomaj,” followed the next day by a stunning cultural intervention in a Rapero festival.  Its inspiring video has reached many thousands, including via an IG story by prominent Iranian actress/activist Nazanin Boniadi. Very prominent artists, mainly from Europe or the Iranian Diaspora, but including some from the US, have made news with their collective statements. France’s major newspaper, LeMonde, published a call to France’s President Macron, by prominent artists, including  author Marjane Sartrapi, actresses Catherine Deneuve and Bianca Jagger. Index on Censorship issued a statement signed by prominent artists, including Sting, Coldplay, Margaret Atwood, DJ Rob Da Bank. In mid-May, Artists4Toomaj issued a letter signed by many prominent artists, including: Peter Gabriel, Angelique Kidjo, Chrissy Hynde, The Pretenders, Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Tom Morello, Duran Duran, Michael Shannon, etc. About the same time, there was a statement from international federations of musicians. In late May, Human Rights Foundation based in Oslo, Norway awarded Toomaj its Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. Revolutionary Afghan singer Shekib Mosadeq featured a large photo of Toomaj in his concert in Germany. Miles Solay of the band Outernational has released numerous video statements, such as this May 25 IG post. The weekend of April 28, there were events worldwide to Free Toomaj/Stop Executions that mobilized tens of thousands, mainly from the Diaspora (Europe, US, Canada, Australia, etc.)

Outrageously, the U.S. and other imperialist-aligned forces are also trying to take advantage and score political points against the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) by issuing denunciations of Toomaj’s death sentence: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the UN, various European Union politicians such as England’s David Cameron, etc. There is even a “Toomaj Act” bill in the U.S. Congress.  In Israel, 12 murals have been painted and promoted for Toomaj, blatantly trading on Toomaj’s face and fame to promote the Zionist anti-IRI stance. The IRI and the cabal of imperialists/Zionists can all point the finger at each other’s crimes to justify their own reactionary regimes—even as the imperialists/Zionists have longer reach and brutal histories, including the current genocide in Gaza for over 7 months now. 

Free Toomaj graphic




1. Skype interview with IndieWire in 2020, when his travel was forbidden from Iran to the Berlin festival to present his film There Is No Evil, which won its highest award [back]

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