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Wednesday 20 May 2015
washingtonpost - On Tuesday, Atena Farghadani is due to go on trial in Iran. If found guilty of the crimes she is alleged to have committed, the 28-year-old could face years in prison.
What are those crimes? According to Amnesty International, they include "spreading propaganda against the system" and "insulting members of parliament through paintings." Ultimately, the spark for her legal woes seems to have been relatively simple: a cartoon depicting members of Iran's parliament as animals.
Farghadani had posted the cartoon to Facebook last year, criticizing Iranian politicians who supported a proposed law that would restrict access to contraception and ban surgical, permanent forms of birth control. The image showed politicians as monkeys and other animals as they voted in parliament. Around the same time, Farghadani had been meeting with the families of those killed after Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election.
Combined, these actions sparked an official response. In August, she was arrested and eventually taken to Gharchak prison. She was released later but was rearrested after she posted a video online that described beatings from prison guards. Since January, she has been held in solitary confinement in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. In February, she had to be hospitalized after she spent three weeks on hunger strike and suffered a heart attack.
Farghadani is just one of a number of cartoonists around the world who have faced legal problems for criticizing or mocking politicians. The problem seems to be growing. "When [Cartoonists Rights Network International] started nearly 25 years ago, we would find two or three cartoonists a month getting into trouble," Robert Russell, the founder of a human rights group that supports cartoonists around the world, told The Post's Comic Riff's last month. "Recently, we have had some cases of two or three new cartoonists in a week."
Iran does have a culture of political cartoons, and sometimes controversial subjects seem to be encouraged. Earlier this year, the country held the Second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest. The contest aimed to "display the West's double standard behavior towards freedom of expression as it allows sacrilege of Islamic sanctities," Iran's semiofficial Fars News Agency reported at the time.