UN: “Artistic expression is not a crime” – Special Rapporteurs urge the Iranian government to free jailed artists

UN Iran campaign press release

On 24 June 2016 the two United Nations Special Rapporteurs on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, and freedom of expression, David Kaye, issued a statement calling on Iranian authorities to free musicians Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, and filmmaker Hossein Rajabian. The statement was also endorsed by the Special Rapporteurs on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and torture Mr. Juan E. Méndez.

Freemuse co-initiated an international campaign in January 2016 for the three artists when they were due to appear in an appellate court to contest the charges against them.

“Freemuse welcomes the joint initiative of the two Special Rapporteurs, as well as the endorsement of the Special Rapporteurs on Iran and torture,” said Freemuse Executive Director, Ole Reitov. “It is of great importance that violations on artistic freedom are addressed at the UN level. Iran must release the artists immediately and unconditionally.”

Read the Special Rapporteurs’ press release in full here:

GENEVA (24 June 2016) – 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.


CORRECTION: This story has been updated as of 4 November 2016 to reflect that musician Yousef Emadi, despite being sentenced and summoned in the same case as musician Mehdi and his brother filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, was not imprisoned and currently remains at liberty according to Amnesty International and a Freemuse source. Based on multiple sources at the time, Freemuse first reported on 7 June 2016 that Emadi was imprisoned along with the Rajabian brothers. This information turned out to be incorrect. Freemuse continues to campaign for the release of Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian. The Special Rapporteurs’ press release appears above in its orginal format.


» United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner – 24 June 2016:
“Artistic expression is not a crime” – UN rights experts urge the Iranian Government to free jailed artists

Related information

» Freemuse.org– 7 June 2016:
Iran: Musician and filmmaker imprisoned

» Freemuse.org – 30 May 2016:
Iran: Two musicians and a filmmaker summoned to prison

» Freemuse.org – 29 February 2016:
Iran: Two musicians and a filmmaker sentenced

» Freemuse.org – 27 January 2016:
Iran: 165 Iranian artists and activists protest charges against two musicians and a filmmaker

» Freemuse.org – 15 January 2016:
Call on Iranian authorities to drop charges on two musicians and a filmmaker

» Freemuse.org – 14 December 2015:
Iran: Music distributors await appeal decision for six years in prison

» Freemuse.org – 17 December 2013:
Iran: Musician and music distributors arrested