After nearly 18 months in prison for a cartoon depicting politicians as animals, Iranian artist and activist Atena Farghadani will reportedly be released sometime next month. She had been sentenced to 12 years and 9 months, but according to her lawyer the sentence has just been reduced on appeal.
Details in English are still sparse, but the welcome news comes via Cartoonists Rights Network International Deputy Director Nik Kowsar, who says:
Ms. Farghadani has been acquitted from charges of undermining national security, and her three year imprisonment for insulting the Supreme Leader has been suspended for four years.
The 9 month sentence of insulting the President, Members of Parliament and the guards of ward 2-A of Evin prison has changed to a monetary fine (not yet determined). The 18 months prison for ‘propaganda against the regime’ has been confirmed by the Appeals Court.
I have not been able to talk to Atena’s father yet, but I thanked her lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, on CRNI’s behalf for his great work and devotion.
Farghadani was first arrested in August 2014 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 2015 and finally received the draconian sentence after a perfunctory jury-less trial in late May. Last year, she was honored with the 2015 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from CRNI.
Also last year, Farghadani was additionally charged with “non-adultery illegitimate relations” for shaking her lawyer’s hand in prison. Contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex is technically illegal in Iran, but rarely prosecuted. Moghimi was also charged, and both parties could have received sentences of up to 99 lashes if convicted. Both were acquitted in January 2016, but in the course of the investigation Farghadani was involuntarily subjected to virginity and pregnancy tests. The specious virginity 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.
The forced exams were originally reported by Farghadani herself in a note to her family from prison, but the Iranian government confirmed that they did take place in a United Nations report released last week. Ironically, authorities claimed that the tests were necessary to disprove “allegations of sexual assault against her on some websites.”
While we are of course greatly relieved to hear that Farghadani’s prison ordeal may be coming to an end, as CRNI notes on Twitter this is not the time to be complacent. Iran’s capricious judicial system could still have some tricks up its sleeve, so advocates around the world must continue to let authorities know we’re still watching. By this time next month, hopefully we’ll be celebrating her release!
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.