Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani, currently serving a nearly 13-year prison sentence for caricaturing members of parliament as animals, last week faced trial on the further charge of “non-adultery illegitimate relations” for shaking the hand of her lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi. Moreover, Amnesty International recently learned that Farghadani was forced to undergo virginity and pregnancy tests in August, purportedly as part of the investigation.
Contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex is technically illegal in Iran, but rarely prosecuted. Moghimi is also charged, and both parties could receive sentences of up to 99 lashes if convicted. In a note leaked from prison, Farghadani said that she was taken to a medical center on August 12 and subjected to a virginity test against her will. Such tests are carried out by physically checking for the presence of a hymen, and are recognized by the World Health Organization as a form of sexual violence. In addition to the assault, Farghadani also reports that she has been the target of “lewd gestures, sexual slurs and other insults” from prison guards and officials since the “illegitimate relations” charge was introduced in June.
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. Last month, she was honored with the 2015 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from Cartoonists Rights Network International.
A judge is expected to rule on the “illegitimate relations” charges against both Farghadani and Moghimi this week.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.