Public protest best hope for freeing Iranian artist sentenced to 12 years


The latest outrage in international cartooning circles involves no terrorism, no bloody automatic-weapon spray, no staged draw-the-prophet circus, no 24/7 cable-yak coverage and not much ink.

No, the case of 28-year-old Iranian artist and political activist Atena Farghadani is perhaps more sinister for it's very ordinariness.

Farghadani sits in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison, sentenced two weeks ago to 12 years for posting on Facebook a drawing of Iranian parliamentarians as cows and apes after they passed strict new restrictions on birth control.

(Iran's supreme leader, with grand Shiite-empire ambitions, has decreed that the Iranian population must reach 150 million in the coming years.)

According to reports, Farghadani suffered a heart attack in prison earlier this year after an extended hunger strike, and has been routinely mistreated by guards. Hardly surprising.

The precise charge against her was "insulting members of parliament through paintings" and "spreading propaganda against the system," according to Amnesty International.

Nik Kowsar, an Iranian exile and political cartoonist living in Washington D.C., maintains that Farghadani's best hope is for massive public protest in the remaining 10 days before her appeal is heard:

"The Iranian regime has a very negative record of systematically abusing human rights. Atena is a human rights advocate who cares for the rights of women, and a wonderful artist who hit the right nerve with her cartoon.

"It has been proven many times that the regime will bow to pressure, and if many human rights defenders remain in prison, I blame those governments that want to have business with Tehran, without bringing up cases such as Atena's."

Kowsar went on to decry Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif for claiming that "We do not jail people for their opinions." The truth, said Kowsar, is that "the regime not only jails, but kills people for their opinions."

Kowsar escaped Iran in 2003 after receiving threats from death squads linked to the regime. With the help of Cartoonists Rights Network International (I sit on their board, full disclosure) and some Canadian cartooning colleagues, he relocated to Canada, where he now enjoys citizenship.

The Farghadani case doesn't bode well for the better-publicized plight of Washington Post writer Jason Rezaian, charged with espionage and awaiting sentencing by the same monkey, er, cow, er judge.