Don't let Iran's art takeovers or cartoon drawing contests fool you: Its still a fanatically religious country where oppression and human rights abuses are the norm.
The latest news out of Iran confirms this as it was revealed Tuesday that an Iranian artist was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for drawing a cartoon criticizing members of parliament over their decision to restrict birth control for women.
Atena Farghadani, 28, had a sham Iranian trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on May 19th and learned on Monday of the verdict and harsh sentence for “insulting members of parliament through paintings” for drawing the officials as animals, according to Amnesty International.
The family plans to appeal, though sentence, due to quirky Iranian law, will only last a little over seven and a half years.
"Naturally we are all upset by the sentence," said a family member. "But seeing how optimistic Atena has been, we are trying to maintain that outlook, too."
“She’s truly an angel,” a relative said, anonymously, for fear of government reprisals. “She just loves people and animals, and besides for all her artistic talent, she is such a strong supporter of human rights.”
"I hope Atena's case is a wake up call for the international community and that they put the human rights on top of the agenda in their dialogue with the Iranian authorities.” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of group Iran Human Rights.
In addition to the ridiculously harsh sentence, Farghadani’s family has been threatened. It is “just another way of putting pressure on Atena and making sure no one speaks to the media” Amiry-Moghaddam said.
“It’s crazy to think her name spread as a result of a cartoon, because she has done so many wonderful things to help humanity, doing things quietly and not wanting credit,” he said.
Farghadani has been in prison since last August, when the Revolutionary Guards raided her home and blindfolded her, confiscated her personal items and then imprisoned her, according to Amnesty International.
Farghadani posted an open letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to her Facebook page stating:
“What you call an “insult to representatives of the parliament by means of cartoons” I consider to be an artistic expression of the home of our nation (parliament), which our nation does not deserve! I, therefore, must pay retribution for defending my beloved defenseless people.”
She has since been held in solitary confinement, a method the United Nations views as torture, at Tehran’s Evin prison, where she was hospitalized in February after going on a three week hunger strike and suffered a heart attack.
Farghadani’s family visits the prison weekly, the family member said.
“Atena is a prisoner of conscience – she has committed no real crime,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “She is being unfairly punished simply for exercising her right to free speech, association and assembly. We've been calling on Iran's Supreme Leader and Head of the Judiciary to release Atena immediately. If not, we'll continue to fight for her freedom.”
Judge Abolghassem Salavati, the judge overseeing her case, is known as “Iran’s hanging judge” or the “judge of death” for handing out hundreds of death penalty sentences, particularly against journalists, bloggers, artists and political activists.
So while Iran puts out slick propaganda showing it holding cartoon drawing contests against ISIS or filling Tehran with works of art, the reality is that it is run by religious fanaticals who do not believe in human rights or the rule of law.