Human Rights

Iranian Heavy Metal Band Charged with Playing “Satanic” Music, Face Possible Execution

Members of an Iranian heavy metal band have reportedly been arrested on charges of blasphemy for playing “satanic” music and face possible execution.

Trev McKendry of the online music station Metal Nation Radio received a message earlier this month from an a fan of the Iranian band Confess. The email claimed that lead singer Nikan “Siyanor” Khosravi (age 23) and DJ Arash “Chemical” Ilkhani (21) were arrested in November and held for months in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison until they posted one billion rials ($30,000) in bail. They were reportedly charged with blasphemy, “advertising against the system,” forming and running an illegal “satanic” band and record label, writing anti-religious, atheist, political, and anarchist lyrics, and interviewing with “forbidden foreign radio stations.” If found guilty of blasphemy, they could face the death penalty. Convictions on other charges could lead to up to six years in prison.

Multiple forms of Western music, including rock and rap, are reportedly banned in Iran. The BBC reported in 2014 that many young Iranians have have been labelled “Satanists” due to their musical preferences.

The letter writer also claimed that the band members had been held under “tough conditions and…hard investigations.” The musicians have been ordered to shut their band down, including their social media presence, while awaiting their trial dates.

The band has not updated its Facebook page since they released their new album In Pursuit of Dreams in late October, shortly before their arrest. Songs on their album include “Teh-Hell-Ran” and “I’m Your God Now!”

Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Mail that the band members, like other musicians punished in the past, would likely face charges of “insulting sacred beliefs,” which carries a five year-sentence, rather than “insulting the prophet,” which carries the death penalty.

Iranian musicians, especially the ones who play non-classical western music, are navigating a minefield. Due to severe censorship, most of these groups are performing underground. Anything from the content of their lyrics to the style of the music they play might violate unwritten regulations that musicians are expected to adhere to by various authorities.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the Iranian government’s repression of its citizens had increased after the nuclear deal was signed last summer. Two Iranian poets were sentenced in October to lashes and jail time for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex. The growing oppression prompted Anti-Defamation League national director Jonathan Greenblatt to write in December that Iran’s “ongoing human rights violations and its external aggressions must be taken into account when considering the prospect of normalized relations.”

A petition to free the band has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures.

[Photo: Confess / Facebook]