Atena Farghadani has been imprisoned in Iran since January of 2015. Although she describes herself as an activist and fine artist, her 12 year and nine month sentence was due to an editorial cartoon she drew depicting Iranian lawmakers as animals. (See below.) Farghadani created the cartoon in response to a bill the lawmakers passed which would restrict contraception, criminalize voluntary sterilization and would set Iranian women’s reproductive health back decades. Farghadani has been beaten and interrogated for 9 hours at a time during her imprisonment and the Iranian authorities have ignored repeated worldwide calls for her release. Recently, Amnesty International reported that Farghadani had been forced to undergo a “virginity and pregnancy test” because she had been seen shaking hands with her lawyer. Let’s be clear, these “virginity tests”, which were also used in Egypt against women protestors during the Arab Spring, are sexual abuse. They are employed specifically against women to intimidate and silence them from asserting their right to freedom of expression.
About a month ago I had the honor of accepting for Farghadani the Courage in Cartooning Award, which is given by the Cartoonists Rights Network International to “a cartoonist who is in great danger or has demonstrated exceptional courage in the exercise of free speech rights.” (Disclosure: I am a former CRNI board member.) During my remarks I pointed out the extraordinary courage she showed for standing up for her beliefs and for the rights of her Iranian sisters even though she is still but a young woman in her 20’s. Although I’ve drawn cartoons for years about women’s rights I do so in a country where I have protection under the First Amendment and I don’t have to fear the possibility of being thrown in jail for expressing an opinion. I doubt I could have been as brave as Atena has been these last several months.
The International community should condemn Iranian leaders for their abusive treatment of women and demand that Atena Farghadani be released from prison.