ATENA FARGHADANI has just been sentenced for, in effect, drawing Iranian leaders as monkeys and cows. Given the absurd ruling, perhaps she should have drawn the rule of draconian law, and her legal proceedings, as a kangaroo court instead.
Farghadani, a 28-year-old Iranian artist and activist, rendered visual judgment last year, lampooning members of her nation’s parliament over their vote to restrict contraception and ban certain birth-control methods — just one of her works satirizing the government. Tehran’s Revolutionary Court has now announced that it is rendering its own brand of judgment.
Farghadani has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in an Iranian prison, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights and the Northern Virginia-based Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI). According to some sources, the longest that she can legally be imprisoned is seven years and six months, and an appeal is said to be planned.
The artist’s crimes include “insulting members of parliament through paintings” and “spreading propaganda against the system,” according to Amnesty International.
“Obviously, everyone at CRNI is stunned and saddened by the developments,” Joel Pett, the human-rights group’s president, tells The Post’s Comic Riffs on Monday.
“I’m personally heartbroken and angry that we were not able to do more to help,” adds Pett, the Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Farghadani, a former fine-arts student who has expressed her opinions prominently through provocative works, was arrested last August and held for months. She was released for several weeks late last year before being rearrested after she spoke out about her mistreatment at the hands of guards. After her second incarceration, in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, she went on a hunger strike in February, reportedly suffered a heart attack and at one point lost consciousness. (Amnesty International details her timeline here, including her attempts to draw in prison by using flattened paper cups as her canvas.)
One political cartoonist particularly knowledgeable about her plight is Iranian American artist Nikahang Kowsar. Now a CRNI board member based in the Washington area, Kowsar was jailed in his native Iran 15 years ago for his cartoons critical of the country’s leaders.
“Atena is being punished for something many of us have been doing in Iran: drawing politicians as animals, without naming them,” Kowsar tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “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.
“Many members of the Iranian parliament are just following the leaders without any thoughts.”
After her initial release, several months ago, she made a video detailing her mistreatment, and was vocal about prison abuses — leading, observers believe, to her second detention.
Farghadani “was brave enough to say what she had witnessed in prison, and she was beaten up by the security agents for that reason near the courtroom, in front of her parents,” Kowsar tells Comic Riffs. “She had talked about the [monitoring] video cameras she had seen near the showers.”
A key factor in Farghadani’s case, Kowsar believes, is judicial discrimination. “She’s not a relative or a close person to powerful people … ,” Kowsar says. “Atena does not have any real support coming from the reformists and the politicians close to the Rouhani government.”
Koswar believes that Farghadani’s case has also been hurt by the fact Iran’s judicial system lacks juries.
“Judge [Abolghassem] Salavati, the same person in charge of [jailed Post journalist] Jason Rezaian‘s case, is known to be ruthless,” he says, “and I believe Atena is a victim of the judicial system, Salavati, and people who should have supported her — all together.”