Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Iranian Cartoonist Atena Farghadani Released

A legal victory in Iran means a cartoonist sentenced to 12 years will be released early
Fadi Abou Hassan, a Palestinian cartoonist in exile in Norway, drew this cartoon to celebrate the impending release of Iranian artist and activist Atena Farghadani. 
Iranian artist Atena Farghadani had been languishing in Evin Prison serving a 12-year-sentence for a 2014 cartoon she posted on Facebook that portrayed Iranian lawmakers as humans with the faces of monkeys and goats. 
Atena Farghadani posted this cartoon to Facebook in 2014. She was protesting the Iranian parliament's then plan to not allow Iranian women to buy birth control in order to increase the population of Iran.
Atena Farghadani
The cartoon was mocking the members of Iran's parliament, who at the time were calling for bans on women acquiring birth control as a way to increase the population of Iran. But last week Farghadani's sentence was drastically reduced and she'll be eligible to be released in a few weeks.
Iranian cartoonist Nik Kowsar credits Farghadani's lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, for finding a way through Iran's legal thicket.
"I believe her lawyer did a very good job defending her," Kowsar says, "not making the case political but doing a legal battle with the court."
Instead of making Farghadani an international cause célèbre, Moghimi focused on the intention of her cartoon. In the end, he was able to get the Iranian appeals court to acquit Farghadani of "assembly and collusion against the state" and he also had her sentence for "insulting the Supreme Leader" suspended.
A nine-month sentence for "insulting" the current president and other Iranian officials was reduced to a fine. That left just an 18-month prison sentence for "propaganda against the state" and that term is up as of early May.
Kowsar also spent time in Evin Prison in 2000 for a cartoon that offended Iranian authorities. 
Eventually he resettled in the United States and now works with the human rights group Cartoonists Rights Network International to help cartoonists around the world who are persecuted for their craft.  
He says 29-year-old Farghadani is not strictly a cartoonist but that didn't matter. 
"We had not seen any cartoons from Atena in the past but this specific artwork was a cartoon so that's why CRNI started supporting her," he says. In 2015, CRNI awarded Atena Farghadani their annual Courage in Cartooning Award. 
CRNI, led by Kowsar, also wrote an open letter to the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. "Though we knew that the Iranian president does not have anything to do with the judiciary, we thought maybe his office was able to possibly lobby on behalf of all the organizations that were signatories to that campaign."
Kowsar and CRNI sought out IFEX, a clearinghouse of more than 80 freedom of speech organizations around the globe. "Through IFEX we were able to get lots of signatures and also many cartoonists — well-known artists — actually signed that letter and it was sent to the Iranian president."
A separate "drawing" campaign began as well. In 2015, visual storyteller and Washington Post columnist Michael Cavna created the hashtag #Draw4Atena. Cartoonists around the world responded. See some of those responses here.
This story first appeared on PRI.org.

Atena Farghadani, the Iranian cartoonist and activist who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for drawing a politically sensitive cartoon, was released from Evin Prison today, May 3, 2016.
Speaking to Journalism Is Not A Crime, Farghadani’s lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, confirmed the news of her release.
The 29-year-old cartoonist has been held in Tehran’s brutal Evin Prison since she was arrested on January 10, 2015. She was initially sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison by the notorious Judge Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court.
Her sentence was based on a wide range of charges for drawing a cartoon that depicted members of the Iranian Parliament as animals. The cartoon was drawn in protest against two proposed bills that would outlaw voluntary sterilization, restrict access to contraceptives, and tighten divorce laws.
But an appeals court reduced her sentence to 18 months, her lawyer said on April 25, 2016.
“The appeals court has made it possible for Miss Farghadani to return to a normal life and normal society,” Moghimi wrote on his Facebook page on April 25. “Thanks to the judge of the appeals court and to everyone who supported her.”
He also detailed the appeals court’s decision:
“Miss Farghadani has been acquitted of the charges of ‘gathering and colluding with counter-revolutionary elements’ and ‘acting against national security.’ The three-year prison sentence for ‘Insulting the Supreme Leader’ has been replaced by a four-year suspended sentence. Moreover, she has received a fine for ‘insulting members of parliament and the president’ and ‘insulting prison guards.’ She has been sentenced to 18 months in prison on the charge of ‘propaganda against the regime’,” he wrote. 
Farghadani was originally arrested in August 2014 and detained for two months – most of which she served in solitary confinement. Following her release, she posted a video on YouTube describing how prison guards had mistreated her physically, which was shared in the press and on social media. Instead of investigating the allegations, authorities re-arrested her in January 2015.
In October 2015, the news emerged that Farghadani faced additional charges, including “indecent conduct” and “illegitimate relations,” after shaking hands with her lawyer during a prison visit. Under Iranian law, it is illegal to shake hands with a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member. Farghadani was later acquitted of these charges.
In addition to imposing new charges on Farghadani, the young artist was also subjected to a “virginity test” in prison, a move that was condemned by human rights groups.
Read more about Atena Farghadani on her profile.

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