Nov 3, 2023
Dissident Iranian Composer Receives UN Award for “Courageous” Work
A dissident Iranian composer who has been jailed three times for his music has won the United Nations’ second annual International Art Contest for Minority Artists.
The honor was presented to Mehdi Rajabian in absentia on November 2 because he is unable to leave Iran.
“This is an important award,” Rajabian said in a statement, adding, “Happiness is a collective event, and unfortunately no one is happy here [in Iran].”
“The situation has become completely different after the recent protests. No award can be a criterion for determining the artistic value of an artist, but it can definitely be a platform for the voice of human rights and freedom of art.”
The award went to three “minority artists working on themes relating to intersectionality and compounded forms of discrimination,” according to the website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR).
Claude Cahn, a UN human rights officer, said that the judges were moved by Rajabian’s bravery, resilience and commitment, according to Billboard, which publishes a news website and weekly magazine that covers music, video and home entertainment.
“In the views of the judges panel, at the risk of his health and own life, he has used his spirit and music to be a human rights light in the darkness,” he said.
Sverre Pedersen, the executive committee chair of the nongovernmental organization Freemuse and Minority Rights Group International, a partner in the contest, said that Rajabian “continues his artistic work and his courageous human rights work” despite being under “constant surveillance” and “often subjected to harassment and threats.”
Rajabian was arrested in 2013, put in solitary confinement for three months, released on bail and arrested again in 2015 for recording the album The History of Iran Narrated By Setar.
In Tehran’s Evin prison, the artist began a 40-day hunger strike that led to his release on parole in 2017.
Rajabian was arrested again in 2020, but not imprisoned, because of his album Middle Eastern. He was accused of “encouraging prostitution” because female vocalists sang on the album, according to the composer.