Free Expression Middle East

Iran is sending an artist to jail for 12 years over this cartoon

The cartoon Atena Farghadani drew in protest.
The cartoon Atena Farghadani drew in protest.

Atena Farghadani, a 28-year-old artist and activist in Iran, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for posting a cartoon that depicted members of Iran’s parliament with animal heads.

The cartoon was in protest of a legislative move to restrict birth control and was posted on her Facebook page. Farghadani was arrested in August 2014 and the charges against her range from insulting parliament members to gathering with anti-revolutionaries.

In November 2014, after she had been released, Farghadani posted a Youtube video (in Arabic), detailing abuse and treatment while she was jailed and on a hunger strike.

This was her treatment while in prison, according to Amnesty International:

Atena flattened paper cups to use them as a surface to paint on. When the prison guards realised what she had been doing, they confiscated her paintings and stopped giving her paper cups. When Atena found some cups in the bathroom, she smuggled them into her cell. Soon after, she was beaten by prison guards, when she refused to strip naked for a full body search.

Farghadani was arrested again just after the video was posted.

Nikahang Kowsar, a board member of Cartoonists Rights Network International board member said Farghadani is an “innocent artist” in a press release.

“Atena is a brave artist who did not censor herself in face of fear. The infamous Judge [Abolghassem] Salavati’s  fear-mongering tactics did not work on Atena and she decided to tell the world how Iranian jailers treat political prisoners.”

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui called the sentence “a gross caricature of justice.”

“No one should be in jail for their art or peaceful activism.”

A note on a Facebook page dedicated to Farghadani disputed the 12-year sentence and said with Iran’s new penal codes, the maximum sentence should be seven years and six months. Faraghdani’s lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, also said the maximum charge should be 7.5 years.

However, a provision allows Iran to impose heavier sentences when there are more than three crimes.

Amnesty International says officials now throw together multiple charges to get more convictions, and “charges are frequently for vague and overly-broad national security-related offences and for ‘offences’ such as insulting officials or Islamic principles.”

The page also posted her defense speech:

I drew that cartoon of assembly representatives was[sic] because I believe that if someone choose arts as their subject but do not criticize the issues of their society, [they have] have betrayed themselves, their superego, and their society.

An appeal is planned, according to the Washington Post.

Cartoons and art in support of Atena Farghadani

Kianoush on : “#AtenaFarghadani #FreeAtena”

Terreur Graphique on : “Le dessin est un sport de combat via @libe #FreeAtena #Iran #dessin”

tOad on : “@IranWire1 #FreeAtena”

Jonathan Guyer on : “Two parallel events in Iran shed light on just how cartoonishly the Western media approaches Tehran. #ISIS #FreeAtena”

About the author

P. Kim Bui

P. Kim Bui is the deputy managing editor for She’s also an adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California and co-founder of #wjchat, a weekly Twitter chat for web journalists.

Her experience in Web journalism includes news organizations such as Digital First Media’s Thunderdome, public media outlet KPCC, the Kansas City Star, APM’s Marketplace and the San Luis Obispo Tribune. She is on the board of directors of the Online News Association, and co-organizes the group’s L.A. contingent. She also is the program chair of V3, a digital media conference in Los Angeles, put on by the Asian American Journalists Association.

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