Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian arrested for collaborating with female artists

Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian arrested for collaborating with female artists
3 min read
04 September, 2020
An Iranian musician will stand trial for working with female artists, including one who lives in the Netherlands.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani continues crackdown on free speech [Getty]

An Iranian composer and musician has been arrested over his collaboration with female artists, as fears over censorship in the country grow.

Mehdi Rajabian is set to stand trial for working with female artists, activists told The Washington Post, with one of the performers being dancer Helia Bandeh.

Bandeh, who is based in the Netherlands, performed to his music in a video published online.

“I strongly believe in the philosophy and message of music, artistic independence and an uncensored world,” Rajabian said in a text messages from the Iranian city of Sari, after posting bail.

Iran’s laws regulating public performances are widely open to interpretation, and this is part of the problem: Dancing and singing can be considered illegal, especially when women are doing it.

This isn’t the first time Rajabian has been arrested. He had also been jailed in 2013 and 2016 for violating laws banning artists from producing music without being given permission.

In 2013 he was arrested with his filmmaker brother Hossein, and said he had been held in solitary confinement for a number of months.

The pair returned to prison in 2015 and were charged with producing music without a state licence, and Rajabian was released from prison early after going on hunger strike.

At the time he had lost 33 pounds and 40 per cent vision in his eye.

“To go after Mehdi and the whole artistic community in Iran like this, it just showed that Iran has been taking several steps backward,” said Srirak Plipat, the executive director of Freemuse, an NGO familiar with Rajabian’s case.

“Even ordinary people are afraid to talk to me,” Rajabian wrote.

Iran continues its crackdown on dissenting voices.

In May, Iran sentenced a French-Iranian academic to five years in prison on national security charges.

Fariba Adelkhah was “sentenced to five years for gathering and conspiring against national security, and one year for propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” according to her lawyer Said Dahghan.

Dahghan said Adelkhah is expected to serve the full five-year sentence, and she intends to appeal, according to France24.

The 61-year-old academic is a specialist in Shia Islam and a research director at Sciences Po University Paris. She had been in prison in Tehran while awaiting her trial.

A French colleague, Roland Marchal, had also been arrested while visiting her, Dehghan said, who also represents Marchal, and he was released in March as part of a prison swap.

The French authorities had freed Jalal Rohollahnejad, an Iranian engineer who had been held over accusations that he violated US sanctions against Iran.

France has called for their release as a “gesture” of goodwill, whilst Iran has called on France to stop “interfering”.

At the time of her arrest, she was looking at the movement of Shia clerics between Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, and she had spent time in Qom, a holy city.

Adelkhah had been on a hunger strike for six weeks to protest her arrest, which ended on 12 February and fears were expressed about her health.

Eleven days later she was sent to the prison’s hospital for treatment for severe kidney damage.

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