LONDON: Amir Tataloo, one of the most popular Iranians on social media and outspoken critic of the regime in Tehran, was arrested on Tuesday as he prepared to leave for the UK.
The rapper, whose real name is Amirhossein Maghsoodloo, was detained in Turkey where he had been living to pursue his career in music. Reports said the arrest was at Iran’s request.
Tataloo, who has performed for the BBC, is a long-standing opponent of Iran’s ruling mullahs and has denounced the establishment for not licencing his music, which Iran deems “Western, non-Iranian and immoral.”
He has been arrested in Iran multiple times for his lyrics, which spoke out against the government’s human rights abuses and restrictions on press freedom.
Iran International TV channel reported that Turkish authorities are currently working to facilitate Tataloo’s extradition to Iran, prompting fears for his safety from colleagues and fans.
A fan-made petition advocating for his release had already garnered more than 15,000 signatures.
The administrator of Tataloo’s social media accounts, known as Ronak, warned that “if Amir is handed over to Iranian police, it is unclear what is going to happen.”
She said: “Think you wake up today and think that from tomorrow you will go to a European country after years of pain… but instead they touch you and want to bring you back to the same country where your life has always been in danger.”
Tara Sepehri Far, Iran Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Arab News that Tataloo has been harassed by authorities repeatedly, and that his “story of past persecution for artistic activities is very concerning right now.”
Tataloo could “face a real threat of persecution or torture” if returned to Iran.
Even more worrying though, she said, is the way Iranian media is treating the arrest.
Far told Arab News that Iran is using this as an opportunity to “show that they’re capable of bringing people back to Iran.
“They’re using it as a propaganda tool and as leverage to show that Iran can project power beyond its borders.”
Tataloo has more than 3.2 million followers on Instagram and 1.25 million on Facebook.
The arrest comes at a time of heightened civil unrest within Iran, which has been wracked by months of anti-government protests.