Atena free!Fantastic news from Iran today: after nearly 18 months in prison for drawing a cartoon, Atena Farghadani has been released!

Farghadani’s sentence had recently been reduced on appeal from the original 12 years and 9 months, but even her lawyer was not sure exactly when she would be set free. She was greeted by family and supporters bearing flowers upon her exit from Evin Prison today. Cartoonists Rights Network International has spoken to her directly, and she “expressed her utmost appreciation for [CRNI] and all organizations, cartoonists and activists who have supported her throughout her incarceration and given a voice to her and her cause.”

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 Mohammad Moghimi’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 month. Ironically, authorities claimed that the tests were necessary to disprove “allegations of sexual assault against her on some websites.”

Farghadani told CRNI that “although she’s happy to be free, she is also concerned about all of the unknown prisoners who have no supporters.” While other Iranian cartoonists under duress–including CRNI deputy director Nik Kowsar–have fled the country when they could, Farghadani said today that her hope is “to stay in Iran and continue working as an artist.”

CBLDF salutes Farghadani’s incredible courage, and we are celebrating right alongside her family and all her supporters around the world!

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.