When political cartoonists from around the country and the world gathered in Columbus, Ohio last week for the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, many of them were thinking of a colleague who couldn’t attend. At a ceremony Saturday evening, Iranian artist and activist Atena Farghadani was honored with the CRNI Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award–necessarily in absentia, since she is currently serving a prison sentence of nearly 13 years for caricaturing politicians as animals.
Farghadani was first arrested last August for her cartoon mocking Members of Parliament as they debated a bill to ban voluntary sterilization procedures such as vasectomies and tubal ligations in an effort to reverse Iran’s falling birthrate. But even before her arrest, she was already well-known to the government for her fearless advocacy on behalf of political prisoners, Baha’i minorities, and the families of protesters killed after the country’s presidential election in 2009.
When Farghadani was released on bail while awaiting trial, she promptly uploaded a video to YouTube detailing abuses she suffered in prison including beatings, strip searches, and non-stop interrogations. She was rearrested in January and finally received the draconian sentence after a perfunctory jury-less trial in late May.
Furthermore, in June Farghadani and her defense lawyer Mohammad Moghimi were both charged with adultery for shaking each other’s hands, which is technically illegal between unrelated members of the opposite sex in Iran but rarely prosecuted. Moghimi was detained for three days before being released on bail. If convicted on the “illicit relations” charges, Farghadani and Moghimi both could be sentenced to up to 99 lashes.
Last week’s CRNI awards ceremony honoring Farghadani drew a distinguished gathering of international cartoonists including Zunar, a previous recipient of the award who is currently awaiting trial in Malaysia on nine counts of sedition that could net him up to 43 years in prison. The award was accepted on Farghadani’s behalf by Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes, who gave a speech lauding her Iranian colleague’s bravery:
You know, I think that we talk a lot about courage in our business, and we like to think that we would have the courage to stand for our principles regardless of what happens to our personal safety. I don’t know if I could do what she has done. After the first arrest, I don’t know if I would have been able to do that video. I think it’s quite amazing, actually, what this young woman has done…
Telnaes also showed a photo of art that Farghadani created on flattened paper cups during her initial imprisonment, epitomizing her determination to keep drawing and painting no matter what. International supporters can keep the pressure on Iranian authorities to truly demonstrate their purported commitment to creative and intellectual freedom by signing the petition from Amnesty International and by submitting art to the #Draw4Atena social media campaign.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.