Image: Mehdi Rajabian / Facebook
2 September 2020
On August 10, Mehdi Rajabian was arrested and interrogated by Iranian authorities. He was later released on bail. He has since been formally called to a court hearing which is scheduled for 5 September.
“The arrest of and charges against Mehdi Rajabian for his music and his fight for women’s right to take part in cultural life is a clear violation of the right to freedom of artistic expression and cultural rights, guaranteed in the ICCPR and ICESCR, the two international human rights treaties which Iran ratified in 1975. Freemuse urges Iranian authorities to drop all charges against Mehdi Rajabian and reassure everyone in Iran that they are entitled to exercise their freedom of artistic expression without fear,” said Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat.
Mehdi was arrested immediately after the release of his latest music video for his Middle Eastern Project, featuring women dancing. This is forbidden under Iranian law as it is deemed “immoral”. Even though his bail has been paid, he has been warned that it can be revoked “if music of activity is done”. He is now under house arrest, while he awaits his trial. Rajabian says a judge told him his latest project “encouraged prostitution”.
Rajabian has now been called to the court in Sari, his hometown, where he must appear on 5 September. He has not been informed of what he is charged with.
“I packed my things in a bag. If they bring riots to my house by the agents of the Iranian regime, I can collect them immediately. Because I published the news of the arrest and gave an interview. This is a crime in itself. One day in the history of these stories becomes a novel,” Rajabian said to Freemuse.
In his interview with Freemuse, Rajabian explained that his motivation in speaking out publicly on his charge and arrest is largely to draw attention to the plight of Iranian women.
“I explained exactly in the interviews about the ban on women’s singing. I am not afraid of the Iranian regime and what I say is to push for the freedom of women to sing,” Rajabian said to Freemuse.
Under Iran’s Penal Code, singers and dancers can be prosecuted if authorities deem their acts “indecent” or “immoral”. Women are theoretically allowed to perform in a choir or as a solo vocalist for a female-only audience, but permission is rarely granted.
Rajabian is far from alone in facing legal action for his art. Last May, the female singer Nezzar Moazzam was summoned to court for singing for a group of tourists while wearing traditional costumes.
A few months earlier, composer Ali Ghamsari was banned from performing “until further notice” for refusing to remove a female singer from the line-up of a concert in Tehran.
Freemuse has consistently raised its concerns on the lack of protection and promotion of artistic freedom in Iran. For some years, Freemuse has registered the systematic issue relating to obstacles for women who wish to take an active role in cultural life. This problem is specifically evident in the music industry. Women musicians are particularly targeted by Shia religious leaders who believe that their performances in front of gender-mixed audiences go against Islamic principles. (Read more in the State of Artistic Freedom 2020 report: pg. 79)
Freemuse calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately drop all charges against Mehdi Rajabian artistic rights. Further, it calls for the respect of women artists’ right to create and perform their art freely in Iran.
Many activists have protested against the regime’s repressive laws which have been imposed on Iran, especially on women, since the revolution of 1979.
10 August 2020
According to a statement on this Facebook page, musician Mehdi Rajabian has been arrested by the Iranian authorities in relation to the music video for his Middle Eastern Project. The musician’s case has been sent to Section 6 of the Revolutionary Court of Sari, where he has been called for interrogation tomorrow morning.
The charges relate to the publication of women singing and dancing (as seen in the video clip below). Freemuse calls for all forthcoming charges against the artist to be unequivocally dropped.
View this post on Instagram
. Performing Arts attends "Middle Eastern" project . حضور هنرمند #هلیا_بنده با ایجاد تولید هنر نمایشی به همراه فرم و موسیقی از #مهدی_رجبیان در پروژه «اهل خاورمیانه» اهل خاورمیانه پروژهی است، ترکیبی از رنگ، صوت، تصویر و هنر نمایشی… . Dancer: #Heliabandeh: Music: #Mehdirajabian (Iran)
28 June 2017
Freemuse has learned that Iranian brothers and artists, musician Mehdi Rajabian and filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, were temporarily released on bail from Tehran’s Evin Prison on 22 June 2017.
On 23 June 2017, Mehdi Rajabian made the following post on his Instagram page:
Our incarceration has almost been suspended at this stage after bail payment and the final application of Article 134 [sentence reduction]. Of course it was you who demanded this to happen and taught us the meaning of freedom. We are very thankful to all the artists and friends who raised their voice for artistic freedom and followed up our case. The next few days will be for serious recuperation but again thank you, thank you, thank you…
The brothers’ case has been sent to the Appeal Chamber of the Revolutionary Court under Article 134 and their lawyer hopes that after the ruling the Rajabians will officially be released, reported BBC on 22 June 2017.
In a personal note to Freemuse, Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian said:
It is our pleasure to announce that with your great support, we have never felt lonely, even during the hardest time of our life. Despite the injustice we have been subject to, thinking about you and your support sustained us through the dark days of our imprisonment. And we owed this to you. We hope what happened to us would never happen to any other artist in the world and we would be the last artists who were subject to this hard experience. Though we have to live under the shadow of the suspended imprisonment for years and it makes us worried about the future of our profession, we are sure that we would be able to build up our future in company of the international artists and the organizations who support freedom of art, such as you.
Freemuse has been campaigning for the artists since January 2016. The release comes nearly 13 months after the brothers were imprisoned on a three-year sentence for their peaceful artistic expressions, and less than a month after Freemuse and the Centre for Human Rights in Iran, along with artists and other artistic freedom supporters, wrote a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani calling for their release.
“Freemuse welcomes the release of the Rajabian brothers and calls on authorities to drop all charges against them so they can live, create and promote art in peace,” Dr Srirak Plipat, Freemuse Executive Director, said. “However, the reality is that artists in Iran will continue to practice their craft in fear until the government adopts and implements laws, in line with international conventions, that allow for a truly free and safe environment for artistic expression.”
Imprisoned for their art
The two brothers were imprisoned for their art on 5 June 2016 on a three-year sentence on charges of “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state” through the production and promotion of underground music.
The two artists were prosecuted after a years-long sentencing and appeals process that began in October 2013. In 2013, the two brothers and a third artist, musician Yousef Emadi, were detained for two months in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. During that time, Mehdi was repeatedly tortured.
» Instagram – 23 June 2017
Mehdi Rajabian post
» Voice of America – 23 June 2017
Artists Rajabian brothers released on bail
» Radio Farda – 23 June 2017
Rajabian brothers released from Evin prison
» Radio Zamaneh – 22 June 2017
Rajabian brothers released on bail from prison
» BBC – 22 June 2017
More from Freemuse
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» 5 march 2017: Iran: Musician and filmmaker attacked and threatened in prison
» 16 December 2016: Iran: Imprisoned filmmaker granted 72-hour medical leave, back in prison
» 5 December 2016: Iran: Imprisoned musician’s health deteriorating
» 28 November 2016: Iran: Imprisoned musician granted four-day medical leave
» 21 November 2016: United Nations member states urge Iran to improve human rights
» 16 November 2016: Iran: Artists’ medical condition on hunger strike growing worse
» 1 November 2016: Iran: Artists call for support in letter from prison
» 12 September 2016: Iran: Jailed artists go on hunger strike
» 7 June 2016: Iran: Musician and filmmaker imprisoned
» 30 May 2016: Iran: Two musicians and a filmmaker summoned to prison
» 29 February 2016: Iran: Two musicians and a filmmaker sentenced
» 15 January 2016: Call on Iranian authorities to drop charges on two musicians and a filmmaker
» 14 December 2015: Iran: Music distributors await appeal decision for six years in prison
» 17 December 2013: Iran: Musician and music distributors arrested