Iranian artist draws 12-year-plus prison sentence for cartoons ridiculing parliament

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Atena Farghadani is facing a dozen years behind bars for drawing cartoons. (Justice for Iran)

An Iranian artist was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for drawing a cartoon disparaging members of parliament over their decision to restrict birth control for women.

Atena Farghadani, 28, had what Iran considers a trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on May 19 and learned on Monday of the verdict and sentence. She was charged with “insulting members of parliament through paintings” for drawing the officials as animals, according to Amnesty International.

While she was sentenced to 12 years and 9 months, one source said she could be legally imprisoned only for 7 years and 6 months. The family reportedly plans to appeal.

“Naturally we are all upset by the sentence,” said one family member. “But seeing how optimistic Atena has been, we are trying to maintain that outlook, too.”

“She’s truly an angel,” a relative of Farghadani told on condition of anonymity. “She just loves people and animals, and besides for all her artistic talent, she is such a strong supporter of human rights.”

“I hope Atena’s case is a wake up call for the international community and that they put the human rights on top of the agenda in their dialogue with the Iranian authorities.”

– Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Iran Human Rights

Farghadani’s family has received threats, which the source said is “just another way of putting pressure on Atena and making sure no one speaks to the media.”

“It’s crazy to think her name spread as a result of a cartoon, because she has done so many wonderful things to help humanity, doing things quietly and not wanting credit,” he said.

Last August, Revolutionary Guards raided Farghadani’s home and blindfolded her, confiscated her personal belongings and imprisoned her, according to Amnesty International.

In November, she was released for a short period of time, but was called back by authorities six weeks later after she was accused of publicly discussing the torture and beatings she allegedly endured by prison guards, including posting a YouTube video describing her brutal treatment, according to the Human Rights Activist News Agency.

Farghadani posted an open letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to her Facebook page when she was called back to court:

“What you call an “insult to representatives of the parliament by means of cartoons” I consider to be an artistic expression of the home of our nation (parliament), which our nation does not deserve! I, therefore, must pay retribution for defending my beloved defenseless people.”

She has since been held in solitary confinement at Tehran’s Evin prison, where reports indicate she was hospitalized in February after she spent three weeks on hunger strike and suffered a heart attack.

Farghadani’s family visits the prison weekly, the family member said.

“Atena is a prisoner of conscience – she has committed no real crime,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “She is being unfairly punished simply for exercising her right to free speech, association and assembly. We’ve been calling on Iran’s Supreme Leader and Head of the Judiciary to release Atena immediately. If not, we’ll continue to fight for her freedom.”

Judge Abolghassem Salavati, the judge handling her case, is notoriously known as the “Iran’s hanging judge” or the “judge of death” for sending handing over numerous death penalty sentences, particularly against journalists, bloggers, artists and political activists in arrests made in and around Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009.

Salavati is also the judge handling American Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian’s case.

Since the beginning of 2015, at least 400 prisoners have been executed in Iran, according to the Iran Human Rights group.

“Unfortunately, it is not surprising for Iran Human Rights that the Iranian authorities put people in jail for expressing their opinion,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of the Norwegian-based Iran Human Rights. “I hope Atena’s case is a wake up call for the international community and that they put the human rights on top of the agenda in their dialogue with the Iranian authorities.”

Farghadani, like many other cartoonists around the world are being targeted for criticizing or ridiculing public or religious figures.

A new report by the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) points to an increase in threats launched against cartoonists in response to their work, an issue highlighted by the Paris attacks on Charile Hebdo four months ago.

Earlier this month, two gunmen were killed before they were able to bust into the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s “Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” in Garland, Texas.

Ironically, the regime in Iran hosts its own broadly publicized political cartoon contests with controversial themes including an annual Holocaust cartoon contest and more recently about the Islamic State, while harshly condemning international cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Lisa Daftari is a Fox News contributor specializing in Middle Eastern affairs.