It is an open letter, actually, from Robert Russell, executive director of the Northern Virginia-based Cartoonists Rights Network International, and is addressed to leaders of Iran, from the Ayatollah to the president to the judiciary. The matter at hand: “the freedom of Atena Farghadani.”
Atena, as you might have read right here the other week, was absurdly sentenced just days ago to nearly 13 years behind bars. Her crimes, according to the Iranian courts, include “insulting members of parliament through paintings” and “spreading propaganda against the system,” according to Amnesty International.
And now, the 28-year-old Iranian artist reportedly has less than two weeks to appeal.
Which means that her fellow artists have less than two weeks to make their voices heard. And so Comic Riffs is calling upon all artists who believe her case has been a grievous injustice to pick up an instrument and #Draw4Atena.
Consider it a call to arms and rolled-up sleeves.
I cite Mr. Russell’s open letter because after reading his well-reasoned message, I changed my own #Draw4Atena cartoon, which is after Ms. Farghadani’s “parliament as animals” artwork (to protest the government’s vote on curbing birth control). She drew members of parliament as monkeys and cows, mindlessly voting according to what they’ve been told. And so for me, becoming Puckish and turning them into jackass heads would have been easy.
But Mr. Russell — whom I interviewed earlier this year about such cases — writes Iranian leaders to appeal to the more noble angels of their nature, even as he appeals to their intellect by quoting their own words.
“President [Hassan] Rouhani himself has pledged ‘support for the Freedom of Speech in Iran’s newspapers, magazines and websites,’ with the Minister of Culture reiterating such encouragement,” Russell writes. “Foreign Minister Zarif also noted during a TV interview that: ‘We do not jail people for their opinions.’ ”
“To inform the world that Iran, as with fellow co-signatories, is complying with the Articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it would be hoped that you would reconsider the sentence on appeal, and that the conviction and sentence would be quashed,” Russell continues. “The world looks on — hoping Iran will, in good faith, free Atena Farghadani in this era of international co-operation.”
And like that, in that spirit, I changed the cartoon heads on my Iranian leaders to owls. In the sincere hope they wise up.
But now, it is your turn. Comic Riffs issued an open call when Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat was beaten several years ago in an attempt to try to silence him — and many of you picked up pen and brush to answer.
Let’s #Draw4Atena, and again be heard.
One in Comic Riffs’ yearlong “Journalists in Peril” series.