Iranian political cartoonist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of “insulting members of parliament through paintings” and “insulting the Iranian supreme leader."
The charges stem from a cartoon Farghadani posted online that depicted members of the Iranian parliament with the heads of cows and monkeys. A painter as well as a cartoonist, Farghadani was also charged with “gathering and colluding with anti-revolutionary individuals and deviant sects” because she mingled with the relatives of political prisoners and members of the Baha'i faith during an exhibit of her paintings of protesters killed by the Iranian government.
The 28-year-old cartoonist has already served nine months while awaiting trial. Amnesty International, which has declared her a prisoner of conscience and has called for her release, has some chilling details of her imprisonment:
While in prison last year, 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. Atenasays that they knew about her taking the cups because they had installed cameras in the toilet and bathroom facilities – cameras detainees had been told were not operating.
Farghadani was released from prison in November but rearrested in January, after she made a YouTube video describing her mistreatment. Following the second arrest, she went on hunger strike and suffered a heart attack; she has since been moved to a detention center and has ended her hunger strike.
At Comic Riffs, Michael Cavna adds some context with a conversation with Iranian-American artist Nikahang Kowsar, who was imprisoned for 15 years on similar charges, noting that many cartoonists depict politicians as animals:
Of course, I drew a crocodile and made a name that rhymed with the name of powerful Ayatollah, and caused a national security crisis in 2000. What Atena drew was just an innocent take on what the parliamentarians are doing, and based on the Iranian culture, monkeys are considered the followers and imitators, [and] cows are the stupid ones.
Koswar added that he felt that the fact that Iran does not have jury trials, and that she lacked connections within the government or the reform movement, was a contributing factor to her harsh sentence.