Originally published by Orly Noy of Mekomit
2 years ago a death fatwa was issued against exiled Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi for a song he wrote criticizing the regime. Now Najifi has stirred one of the hottest debates on Iranian social networks with a provocative protest at a concert in Toronto on June 7 where he and his entire band got naked and performed on stage to protest the treatment of political prisoners currently being held at Evin Prison in Tehran. The protest sparked a wave of reactions in social media from both supporters and opponents.
Protests and hunger strikes ensued in April after a violent raid on the infamous ward 350 at Evin Prison, where political dissidents are held in Tehran. Guards stripped the prisoners naked and beat them in a gauntlet of humiliation and abuse as they were transferred to solitary confinement.
Discussion about Najifi’s protest is stirring up not only the supporters and opponents of the regime, but also journalists, musicians, sociologists and Iranian cultural critics debating the effectiveness of this kind of protest.
Iranian pro-government websites rushed to condemn the act calling it “barbaric and animalistic behavior.” The debates are split among Iranian social networks as to how effective this type of protest is in spreading awareness. Even opinions among former political prisoners of ward 350 opinions vary.
Mila Fadaii Asal, a former political prisoner said in an interview that it is the right of every person to express protest as they see fit, but added that “this act does no honor to the inmates.” Fadaii Asal also raised concern that this act could worsen the treatment of the current political prisoners by Evin Prison authorities.
However, Fattah Sobhani, also a former political prisoner of ward 350 said Najafi’s gesture accurately reflected the invasive humiliation conducted on prisoners and drew public attention to this serious problem. “Protest is not supposed to be polite,” he added.
One of the audience members commented that almost no one left the theater following the band members revealing show. “A lot of people had never heard about what happened at 350 and after the musicians stripped everyone started asking why.”
Sociologist Ali Honari believes that even if the provocation aroused attention, it is not necessarily effective because it is “foreign to the spirit of Iran” and ultimately raises more antagonism than empathy.
This is not the first time that Najafi, who lives in Germany since 2005, has managed to stir the Iranian discourse with his blunt and courageous performance. Two years ago, he was forced into hiding because of a genuine fear for his life following the release of the song “Oh Clean (pure)”, in which he invites the tenth Shiite Imam Ali al-Hadi, known as “the pure” to observe Iran’s moral deterioration detailing a long list of incidents in recent years that were very embarrassing for the regime. When the song was released a hundred thousand dollar bounty was put on his head and a death fatwa signed by Ayetaollh Golfayegani.
In response to that Fatwa Nafifi announced in an interview to the London Times that he had no intention to back down, apologize or soften his political and social criticism against the Iranian regime. Last week in Toronto, he proved he meant every word.
Here you can listen to the song that sparked the fatwa, an English translation of the lyrics is listed in the video description: