This post first appeared on iranhumanrights.org and is published here in collaboration with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
A Revolutionary Court in Tehran has sentenced artist and civil rights activist Atena Faraghdani to 12.5 years in prison for drawings and content critical of the government that the young activist posted on her Facebook page.
Faraghdani’s lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, stated in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that the sentence should be reduced to 7.5 years, under Article 134 of the country's New Islamic Penal Code. This article stipulates that sentencing will be limited to the maximum punishment for the crime with the heaviest sentence when an individual faces multiple charges.
Moghimi noted that the ruling issued by the judge stated that Article 134 should be “considered.” The lawyer added that a 7.5-year prison sentence was “the maximum punishment for the charge of ‘assembly and collusion against national security’” (the severest of the charges against her).
“The peaceful expression of dissent remains a red line in Iran,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Campaign. “Cross it and you risk prison time.”
Ghaemi added that the authorities particularly fear social media networks, which have become hugely popular in Iran, especially among the young. Officials have clamped down especially hard on any online content deemed even remotely critical of state policies.
“The court ruling was served to her and myself today [June 1, 2015]. We have 20 days to appeal, and we hope this ruling will be overturned by the Appeals Court,” said Moghimi, Faraghdani’s lawyer.
The activist’s charges are “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “insulting the Supreme Leader, the President, Members of the Parliament, and the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards] Ward 2-A agents [who interrogated her].”
Following five months inside Gharchak and Evin Prisons, Faraghdani was tried at Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court under Judge Salavati, a notorious judge who is consistently handpicked to preside over “national security” cases that security and intelligence organizations bring against political and civil activists, because of the harsh and maximum sentences he imposes. Salavati is the judge presiding over the trial of the Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
Moghimi noted that one of the pieces of evidence used against his client was the fact that she shared on her Facebook page a cartoon depicting members of the Iranian Parliament as animals. Other evidence included Faraghdani’s critical writings, also published on Facebook, and her visits to the families of political prisoners and protesters who were killed at the Kharizak Police Detention Center in 2009, in the aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election.
“According to our laws, activities on social networks on the Internet are not recognized as crimes. In democratic countries, drawing cartoons to criticize those in power is an accepted practice. My client is an artist who expresses her thoughts through drawing cartoons, and she meant to criticize those in power,” Mohammad Moghimi told the Campaign.
“Additionally, Article 8 of the Iranian Constitution expresses that it is upon everyone to ‘prevent vice and promote virtue,’ and this is a two-way responsibility both the nation and the state have vis-à-vis each other. Expressing criticism is also a part of freedom of opinion and expression,” Moghimi said.
Security agents arrested the painter and civil activist Atena Faraghdani on August 24, 2014, and transferred her to IRGC’s Ward 2-A inside Evin Prison. She was released on bail on November 2, 2014. Later, she published a video of herself, where she described being aggressively strip-searched by female prison guards inside a solitary cell at Evin Prison. She was ordered to remove her clothes, she says, which she had refused to do. The video was widely viewed and discussed on social networks.
After the video was published, Faraghdani was summoned to Branch 15 of Tehran Revolutionary Court on January 10, 2015, arrested, and transferred to Gharchak Prison in Varamin, outside Tehran.
Atena Faraghdani embarked on a hunger strike to protest her transfer to the deplorable Gharchak Prison, where political prisoners are not separated from hardened criminals, in violation of the principle of the separation of prisoners.
After her health deteriorated severely and she was transferred to a hospital on February 26, 2015, judicial authorities ordered her transfer back to Evin Prison on March 2, where she has been ever since.