Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani, currently serving a nearly 13-year prison sentence for caricaturing members of parliament as animals, has been spared even more prison time as she was recently acquitted of “non-adultery illegitimate relations.” That charge was brought after she shook the hand of her lawyer Mohammad Moghimi when he visited to discuss her case.
Contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex is technically illegal in Iran, but rarely prosecuted. Moghimi was also charged and acquitted; both parties could have received sentences of up to 99 lashes if convicted. Amnesty International learned in October that in the course of the “investigation,” Farghadani was subjected to pregnancy and virginity tests against her will. The latter test is carried out by physically checking for the presence of a hymen, and is recognized by the World Health Organization as a form of sexual violence. In addition to the government-sponsored 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’s mother Eshrat Ardestani told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that “my daughter was mentally crushed by this accusation but she’s very happy since she heard about the acquittal.” However, there is still a possibility that prosecutors could appeal the verdict. Farghadani is also awaiting a verdict on her appeal of the charges that landed her in prison in the first place, including “insulting members of parliament through paintings” and “spreading propaganda against the system.” Her cartoon mocked Members of Parliament as they debated a bill toban 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 herfearless advocacy on behalf of political prisoners, Baha’i minorities, and the families of protesters killed after the country’s presidential election in 2009.
Farghadani was released on bail for a few months in 2014, but was re-arrested after she posted a video to YouTube telling of abuse and a strip-search at the hands of prison guards. Another advocacy group, Justice for Iran, has subtitled the video in English. Check it out below:
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.