Atena Farghadani (screenshot from YouTube video)

Atena Farghadani (screenshot from YouTube video)

Atena Farghadani, a 28-year-old artist on trial in Iran over a cartoon that depicts members of parliament as animals, has been sentenced to 12 years and 9 months in prison. According to Amnesty International, the crimes for which she was tried included “spreading propaganda against the system,” “insulting members of parliament through paintings,” and “gathering and colluding against national security.” The offending artwork satirized members of parliament, depicted as monkeys and either cows or goats, casting votes for proposed laws that would ban some types of birth control and restrict Iranian women’s access to contraception.

“Atena is being punished for something many of us have been doing in Iran: drawing politicians as animals, without naming them,” Iranian-American artist Nikahang Kowsar told the Washington Post. “Of course, I drew a crocodile and made a name that rhymed with the name of powerful Ayatollah, and caused a national security crisis in 2000. What Atena drew was just an innocent take on what the parliamentarians are doing, and based on the Iranian culture, monkeys are considered the followers and imitators, [and] cows are the stupid ones. Many members of the Iranian parliament are just following the leaders without any thoughts.”

Atena Farghadani's cartoon satirizing the Iranian parliament (via Free Atena Farghadani/Facebook)

Atena Farghadani’s cartoon satirizing the Iranian parliament (via Free Atena Farghadani/Facebook)

Earlier this year, after being repeatedly arrested, beaten, released, and rearrested, Farghadani was summoned to a Revolutionary Court on January 10 and arrested once more. According to some, the summons stemmed from a YouTube video Farghadani had posted, in which she detailed the horrendous conditions of her previous detentions. She was detained at the notorious Gharchak Prison, which is about 30 miles south of Tehran, and on February 9 she began a hunger strike. She vowed not to eat until she was transferred to Evin Prison in Tehran, where she was held for nearly two months last year — including two weeks in solitary confinement, according to the Art Newspaper. Two and a half weeks into her hunger strike, on February 26, she suffered a heart attack and was transferred to a hospital.

“Atena should never have been imprisoned in the first place. Her repeated arbitrary arrest and detention for her artistic work is a flagrant assault on freedom of expression,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said at the time. “Her life is now literally in the hands of the Iranian authorities. She must receive the urgent medical care she needs, and the Iranian authorities must release her and all other prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.”

According to the Washington Post, the longest Farghadani is likely to serve is seven and a half years, and an appeal of the Revolutionary Court’s ruling is being prepared.

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

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