Iran’s treatment of artistic expression is, like its suppression of the free press, a violation of human rights intended to terrify its opponents into submission. Atena Farghadani, 29, was sentenced to almost thirteen years in prison in part for drawing this cartoon of certain members of the Iranian parliament:
It is the kind of free expression of political opinion that is ubiquitous in the West. Her point was that she found the government of Iran to be less like rational human beings and more like beasts. The parliament was, at the time, considering a bill treating family planning services such as contraception and sterilization.
The regime’s response to her satire has been quite harsh. The initial three month sentence was extended into a new set of charges after she wrote letters of protest to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and drew new cartoons critical of her treatment in Evin prison. The new charges against her included were “insulting the Supreme Leader, the President, Members of Parliament, and the IRGC,” meaning the Revolutionary Guards Corps, and “assembly and collusion against national security.” The government hand-picked the judge they wanted to try the case, a man named Abolghassem Salavati who is known to hand down especially harsh sentences, including numerous executions.
Farghadani has been on a hunger strike for some time to protest her detention for practicing what are ordinary human freedoms. This kind of protest can create health risks in the long term, and it appears that she has developed a lymphatic disorder according to her lawyers. She has had to be transported from the prison to a government hospital for treatment at least once.
In addition to her cartoons, she has been active in the areas of children’s rights and civil rights. She has published opinions on social media networks including Facebook, and visited the families of political prisoners and protesters who were killed by the regime. One group of families she has paid special attention to are the families of those detained at the Kahrizak prison during the 2009 “Green” protests against the government. Some of those detainees did not survive the tortures inflicted upon them by their jailers, allegedly including Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Radan, who is said to have personally participated in daily beatings of detainees from this group. These visits probably account for the charges of “assembly and collusion,” which were one of the counts against her in court.
After her initial three-month detention, she recorded a video with new cartoons that explained the abuses she suffered while detained at Evin prison. Voice of America’s Farsi edition has been helping to broadcast her message. The following video is in Farsi, but readers who cannot understand that language will still understand the additional cartoons she has drawn to explicate the human rights abuses she has suffered as a detainee of the regime.
Her lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, has been arrested and is also facing parallel charges of an “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery” and “indecent conduct” for the handshake. By charging her lawyer as well as her, the regime sends a strong warning to any lawyers who might consider working on her case in the future. The detention may also prevent her lawyer from being able to submit an appeal within the mandatory deadline period, which would prevent her appeal from coming before a court that could reconsider the harsh sentence. Under the laws of Iran, an appeal must be filed within 20 days or the case cannot be appealed at all. By keeping her lawyer in jail during this period, the regime can prevent her from accessing even the limited justice available from its court system.