Photo: Mahsa Amini | By Juliette Verlaque, The Daily Beast | Growing up in Iran, Sahar Ajdamsani, 26, recalls that she was in love with reading and writing stories from the time she was eight years old, and realized that, despite the risk, there was nothing else she wanted to do with her life other than to become an artist.

“Of course I knew it was dangerous,” the singer-songwriter and poet said recently from exile in Germany. “But I liked music beyond anything in this world.”

In 2021, Sahar, who has over 400,00 followers on Instagram, wrote a song, “Quarantine World,” which became a global call to action featuring 11 artists from around the world calling for unity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The song was not a viral hit, but for the Iranian authorities, that didn’t matter—Sahar had committed a crime simply because she was a woman who had released music, which is, in Iran, an illegal act that can lead to imprisonment, and even death. In September of that year, she was summoned to appear before the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. Her bank accounts were frozen and her family received repeated calls from unknown numbers—which they suspected were from the government.

Fearing for her life, Sahar fled to Iraq. Broke and separated from her family, she suffered severe depression and anxiety, while facing an unknown future.

For decades, Iran has been one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an artist, with extraordinarily high levels of repression and censorship that penetrate every aspect of society. In PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index—an annual count of imprisoned writers worldwide—Iran is one of the top five global jailers of writers, with at least 21 jailed during 2021 for their free expression.

The situation has only worsened dramatically since the outbreak of mass demonstrations in September 2022 following the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly and was later killed in custody. Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets across the country in response to her death, demanding freedom and equality for women. Approximately 18,000 people have been arrested and over 450 killed. Among these are many writers, poets, musicians, and public intellectuals.

The Iranian government recognizes and fears the power of artists to encourage Iranians to rise up and join the protest movement, as well as their ability to draw global awareness to the atrocities that take place in Iran each day.
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Juliette Verlaque is a program assistant with PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection.

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Iran Supreme Court Accepts Rapper Yasin’s Appeal Against Death Sentence

(Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Court has accepted the death sentence appeal of rapper Saman Seydi Yasin even as it confirmed a death sentence against another protestor, the country’s judiciary said on Saturday.

Yasin, a Kurd who raps about inequality, oppression and unemployment, had been accused of attempting to kill security forces, setting a rubbish bin on fire and shooting three times into the air, charges which he denied.

Yasin’s mother last week pleaded in a video for help to save her son. “Where in the world have you seen a loved one’s life is taken for a trash bin?” she said in the video posted on social media.

The Court had initially said it had accepted the appeals of Yasin and another protestor, but in a subsequent statement the judiciary’s Mizan news agency said only that of Yasin had been accepted.

“The public relations of the Supreme Court of Iran has corrected its news: ‘The appeal of Mohammad Qabadloo has not been accepted … Saman Seydi’s appeal has been accepted by the Supreme Court,” the agency said.

Explaining the decision in its original statement, it cited flaws in investigating the case and said it had been referred back to the court for re-examination.
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(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and David Holmes)

Photo: Mahsa Amini

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