Iranian Musician Charged with ‘Encouraging Prostitution’ for Working with Women Artists

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Persecuted Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian said Wednesday he was recently arrested and will face trial on charges of working with women singers and dancers in violation of Islamic law.

The 30-year-old composer says he was arrested two weeks ago in northern Iran over his latest project, which includes both women vocalists and dancers, who are effectively banned in Iran.

According to a Rajabian, security police arrested him on August 10 and took him straight to court, where the judge accused him of “encouraging prostitution.”

“This regime wants to stifle my voice,” Rajabian told the BBC. “They insist that I stop playing music.”

He was released after his family posted his bail. Iranian officials ordered him to stop producing music until his trial.

“If I make music, they will immediately remove my bail,” he continued. “I have to wait for the day of judgment for now.”

The arrest reportedly came after he gave an interview to the BBC about his upcoming album, as well as the publication of a video featuring the famous Iranian classical dancer Helia Bandeh interpreting his music.

Under Iran’s Islamic law, singers and dancers are subject to prosecution if the regimes consider their acts to be “indecent” or “immoral.” Women are only ever allowed to perform in a choir or as a vocalist for a female-only audience, although they must first receive explicit permission from authorities.

It is not the first time that Rajabian has faced persecution for his musical activities, having twice faced imprisonment for similar charges. In 2013, he forced into solitary confinement for three months, and in 2015 he was given a year six-year prison sentence as well as a permanent ban on musical activities.

Authorities eventually released him after he went on a hunger strike that attracted the attention of the world’s media and human rights organizations. His activities remain closely monitored by the regime.

“Coronavirus days are a normal day for me because I have been completely alone at home for years,” he said. “It was as if I had been transferred from a smaller prison to a larger one. Now the pressure is on me not to even produce another work of art. It means complete death. In general, their plan is my complete destruction.”

The case underlines the staggering levels of censorship and repression imposed by Tehran’s theocratic regime, which regularly cracks down on free expression even if it is non-political.

“Iranian law vaguely defines what constitutes acts against morality, and authorities have long censored art, music, and other forms of cultural expression, as well as prosecuted hundreds of people for such acts,” noted the New York NGO Human Rights Watch. “These laws often disproportionally target women and sexual minorities.”

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