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Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani is free!

    May 04, 2016

    GREAT NEWS! Iranian artist & activist Atena Farghadani is free!

    Amnesty International considered her a Prisoner of Conscience, detained for her human rights work, and campaigned globally to secure her release. Thousands of Amnesty International supporters, including more than 10,000 people in Canada alone, have spoken out for her freedom since she was arrested. Thank you to all who wrote letters and signed petitions urging her release!

    Atena had been serving a prison sentence of 12 years and nine months after being found guilty at an unfair trial in June last year of charges including ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘insulting members of parliament through paintings'. But on May 3, 2016 she was released after an appeal court in Tehran revised her sentence to 18 months, most of which Atena had already served.

    Atena's story

    In August 2014, 12 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards came to Atena’s house. They confiscated her personal belongings, blindfolded her and took her to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. She was to be punished for her peaceful activities, including meeting with families of political prisoners and criticising the authorities on social media and through her art, particularly a cartoon critical of two new government bills that would restrict the rights of women and girls in Iran by making it difficult to obtain contraception or seek a divorce.  

    Atena’s grossly unfair trial lasted just a half hour. The "evidence" against her relied on Atena’s answers under long stretches of interrogation, while she was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or her family. 

    While out on bail briefly, Atena reported that female guards had beaten her, verbally abused her and forced her to strip naked for a body search in Evin Prison. In January 2015, Atena went on hunger strike to protest that she was being held in extremely poor prison conditions. Atena’s health suffered considerably as a result; her lawyer told us she had suffered a heart attack. 

    Then in August 2015, Atena smuggled a note out of prison saying that the authorities had subjected her to a forced ‘virginity test’, which authorities later confirmed. 

    Painting as protest

    While in prison, Atena flattened paper cups to use them as a surface to paint on. When the prison guards realised what she had been doing, they confiscated her paintings and stopped giving her paper cups. When Atena found some cups in the bathroom, she smuggled them into her cell. Soon after, she was beaten by prison guards, when she refused to strip naked for a full body search.

    Global solidarity

    Atena's case sparked international outcry, including the social media campaign #Draw4Atena, with cartoonists from all over the world sharing their work in support of her case. UPDATE: Just two days after her release, Atena was awarded the 2016 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

    The work continues

    Amnesty International is calling on the Iranian authorities to investigate Atena's tortureand other ill-treatment. We are also calling for her conviction and four-year suspended sentence to be quashed. Suspended sentences are often used in Iran to create a climate of fear, coercing activists, journalists and others into silence or self-censorship. 

    Atena's release comes at a time when scores of others face harsh prison sentences imposed for their peaceful human rights activism. 


    > Read more about Atena and other prisoners of conscience who remain behind bars in Iran

    > Take action to free another women's rights activist in Iran, Bahareh Hedayat