UN rights experts urge the Iranian Government to free jailed artists
The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, and on freedom of expression, David Kaye, today called on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release musicians Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, and filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, who were imprisoned and heavily fined earlier this month.
“These three artists were sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, which in turn results in unjustifiable restrictions on the right of all persons in Iran to have access to and enjoy the arts,” Ms. Bennoune said. “Artistic expression is simply not a crime.”
The human rights experts contacted the Iranian authorities on these cases earlier this year, including on the use of torture against Mr. Rajabian, musician and founder of Barg Music, an alternative music distributor in Iran.
Barg Music was the main medium broadcasting alternative music in the country and had introduced more than 100 music albums and thousands of single records by Iranian alternative musicians, as well as female singers, to Iranian audiences, before being shut down by Revolutionary Guards in 2013.
In May 2015, and, according to the Government’s answer to the UN experts, the three artists were sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of 50 million Rials each (some 1,658 USD) for ‘insulting Islamic sanctities’, ‘propaganda against the State’ and ‘conducing illegal activities in the audiovisual affaires including through producing prohibited audiovisual material and performing an illegal and underground music site’. On appeal, the prison sentence was reduced to three years.
“We take note that the sentence of the artists was reduced by the appeal court,” Mr. Kaye said. “However, this verdict is still unacceptable: detaining someone on the grounds of ‘insulting the sacred’ and ‘propaganda against the state’ is incompatible with international human rights standards.”
“I am particularly dismayed that Mehdi Rajabian, Yousef Emadi and Hossein Rajabian were allegedly forced to make self-incriminating televised ‘confessions’ to the charges of having produced prohibited audiovisual materials, to express regret for their work and to apologize for broadcasting the voice of female singers,” Ms. Bennoune said. “This amounts to an extraordinary attack against these artists, and one which has serious repercussions for others in Iran.”
“The arrest, conviction and sentencing of artists is entirely unacceptable and in complete violation of international human rights law binding on Iran. The three artists should be released immediately and all charges dropped,” they concluded.
The expert’s call has also been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan E. Méndez.