By Angelina Kaneva
International Women's Initiative Staff Writer
Atena Farghadani is a cartoonist and a political activist from Iran who had been serving a prison sentence of twelve years and nine months after being found guilty of charges including ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘insulting members of parliament through paintings' during a trial in June 2015.
In August 2014, 12 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards broke into Atena’s home, confiscated her personal belongings, blindfolded her and took her to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. She was to be punished for her peaceful activities, including meeting with families of political prisoners and using her art as a way of criticising a draft law whose aim was to outlaw voluntary sterilisation and restrict access to measures of birth control.
Amnesty International, which followed Atena’s case closely and actively campaigned for her release, noted that her grossly unfair trial lasted just half an hour. The “evidence” against her relied on Atena’s answers under long stretches of interrogation, while she was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or her family.
During her imprisonment, Farghadani reported having been verbally abused and beaten by female guards, and, on several occasions, forced to strip naked for a full-body search. At the beginning of last year, she went on hunger strike as a form of protest of the extremely poor prison conditions that she was being held in as a result of which her health deteriorated considerably and she suffered a heart attack. In August 2015, Atena managed to smuggle a note out of prison saying that the Evin officers had subjected her to a forced virginity test, which was later confirmed by the authorities.
The case sparked a major international outcry from many artists, activists and human rights organisations who launched the social media campaign #Draw4Atena, with cartoonists from all over the world sharing their work in support of her case. The strong international pressure on the Iranian authorities finally led to Aten’s release a week ago when an appeal court in Tehran revised her sentence to 18 months, most of which she has already served.
While we commend the decision to free Atena, we should not forget that the work on her case is far from over. We are joining in with Amnesty International’s is call on the Iranian authorities to investigate Atena's torture and other ill-treatment. We are also calling for her conviction and four-year suspended sentence to be quashed. Suspended sentences are often used in Iran to create a climate of fear, coercing activists, journalists and others into silence or self-censorship.
Atena’s release comes at a time when many other activists, artists and journalists are either facing persecution for exercising their right to the peaceful expression of their beliefs or are currently enduring harsh prison sentences imposed for their peaceful human rights activism.
Let Atena’s freedom serve as a powerful reminder that we are much stronger at fighting injustices when we all stand together. Here you can support some of AI’s other campaigns for releasing prisoners of conscience in Iran.