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Features

Controversial Iranian Rapper Arrested in Turkey

January 29, 2020
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read
Amir Hossein Maghsoudlou, better known as Amir Tataloo, is one of Iran's most popular and controversial singers
Amir Hossein Maghsoudlou, better known as Amir Tataloo, is one of Iran's most popular and controversial singers
In the last presidential election, Tataloo backed Ebrahim Raeesi, who is now the head of the judiciary
In the last presidential election, Tataloo backed Ebrahim Raeesi, who is now the head of the judiciary
Although the singer has criticized the Islamic Republic, he also agreed to film a propaganda video in 2015 that praised Iran's nuclear energy program
Although the singer has criticized the Islamic Republic, he also agreed to film a propaganda video in 2015 that praised Iran's nuclear energy program

The rapper Amir Tataloo has announced on Instagram that he has been arrested in Turkey and will be returned to Iran. 

Iranian police confirmed that the singer, whose full name is Amir Hossein Maghsoudlou, was detained by Interpol at the request of the Judicial Authority of the Iranian Security Forces.

"They caught me,” the rapper posted on Tuesday, January 28, alongside a photograph of him handcuffed. “They say the Iranian government wants you. They didn't want me — until now that I am going to London." Prior to this, he had posted photographs of his luggage, telling his fans that he was about to leave Turkey for London.

He also posted pictures of himself in the police car, and told his fans: "Let me tell you while I still have my cell phone: I did everything I could for you." He also narrated what he heard from the Turkish police: "They say there is a red stamp on me! The Iranian government has said that I encourage the youth to use drugs and they want to take me back to Iran!"

Hours after the news emerged, Deputy Commander and spokesperson for NAJA [the Persian acronym for both Iranian police and security forces] Ahmad Nourian confirmed the arrest and told Mehr News Agency: "At the request of the Judicial Authority, Interpol issued a red notice for the Iranian national Amir Hossein Maghsoudlou (Tataloo), as a result of which the person was arrested by the Turkish police."

The Iranian police website reported that Tataloo had been issued with an Interpol red notice for a wanted person “because he was encouraging the citizens, especially the youth, to use drugs, in particular psychotropic drugs, as well as spreading corruption.” 

 

A History of Controversy — And Changing Allegiances

Amir Tataloo is one of Iran's most popular and controversial performers. Sporting multiple tattoos and usually dressed in unconventional and extravagant clothing, the singer has attracted a wide fanbase — he has 2.4 million followers on Instagram — who go by the name "tatalities." He regularly appears on popular Iranian talk shows, discussing what it was like to grow up in poverty and how the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation helped his family. His songs and concerts, during which he regularly swears and smokes illegal drugs, have become controversial among Iranian conservatives. 

However, Tataloo has also had links with Iran’s more hardline establishment. During the last presidential campaign in 2017, Tataloo released a film about his meeting with Hassan Rouhani's main rival, the hardliner Ebrahim Raeesi, who is now the head of the judiciary, and who sat on Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous “death panel,” which oversaw the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Photographs that were released showing Raeesi, who was at the time in charge of Astan-e Quds Razavi, Iran’s wealthiest foundation, with Tataloo shocked the nation. 

It is unclear what verdict will be handed down to the singer after his arrival back in Iran.

Tataloo began his career as a rapper in 2004, and, as his leanings in the last election illustrates, his political and social views have tended to fluctuate over the years. His first poems and videos make reference to free relations between the sexes, among other taboo topics in Iranian society. A few years later, however, he abruptly became a supporter of the Islamic Republic's leader, Ali Khamenei, and defended the country’s policy of making the hijab mandatory for all women. He wrote on his Facebook page that he considered drinking alcohol to be haram, or forbidden under Islamic law. 

After this sudden shift, Tataloo released a video in 2015 produced in cooperation with the Islamic Republic's Armed Forces that showed him on a military ship celebrating the country’s nuclear energy program. Tataloo appeared on the ship wearing a long-sleeved shirt that covered his tattooed hands and arms, and, for a while, his public appearances showed the same restraint .

In June 2015, Tataloo implicitly expressed his commitment to the Islamic Republic and the leader of the Islamic Republic on Facebook [Persian article]. He wrote: "I swear by God, who transformed me from the person in the street to Amir Tataloo, I will respect the orders of the elders and the nobles and the authorities and will kiss the hands of the Iranian people and the Supreme Leader." At the time, a close friend of Tataloo told IranWire that the singer had been promised a licence to hold a concert in Iran.

However, a year later he was arrested at the request of the Cultural and Media Prosecutor's Office in August 2016. The arrest followed an incident in which he had allegedly sworn at and threatened to assassinate the Cultural and Media Prosecutor's Office interrogator in an audio clip. 

Tataloo has a passion for football and has tried several times to play for two of the capital's most famous teams, Esteghlal and Persepolis. He has a good relationship with several footballers and has occasionally been seen at football training camps. For this reason, he has been interrogated by the prosecutor Bijan Ghasemzadeh. At the time, Fars News Agency reported that Tataloo had been arrested in connection with the audio clip, and for insulting Ghasemzadeh. 

Mizan News Agency, which is affiliated to the judiciary, had reported that Bijan Ghasemzadeh was both an athlete and the interrogator for the sports branch of the Public Employees Prosecutor's Office. He was recently arrested for corruption while an employee of the judiciary [Persian link].

A few months after coming out in support for Raeesi in 2017, Tataloo criticized the Islamic festival of Eid Qurban (also known as Eid Al-Adha) and its ritual of sacrificing animals. Following a backlash, he left Iran. Once outside Iran, he criticized the government. 

 

Arresting Iranians Abroad

The Islamic Republic regularly arrests its opponents outside Iran’s borders. In October 2019, the Revolutionary Guards Corps announced that it had arrested Ruhollah Zam, co-founder of Amad News Telegram channel, after Iraqi authorities detained him and handed him over to Iran. Amad News, known for criticizing the Islamic Republic and the corruption of its leaders, soon became famous and a target for Iranian authorities.

Following the news of Tataloo's arrest, Iranians have gone onto social media to ask: "If the Islamic Republic can request Interpol to arrest its opponents, why doesn't Interpol help arrest embezzlers like Reza Khavari?"

Khavari, the former managing director of Iran’s Melli Bank, is one of several figures implicated in a high-profile $230m embezzlement scandal in 2011. He currently lives in Canada.

Tataloo's most recent post on Instagram says: "What a cool detention center, giving me my phone. Turks are cool. When they found out that I am a singer they all respected me. They said I am an artist and gave me my phone! But they have [been] ordered by my own country to arrest me... Strange!"

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