Cyber and children rights activist; painter and cartoonist; arts graduate.


Acting against national security
Gathering and colluding with counter-revolutionary elements
Insulting members of parliament by painting images of them and publishing the caricatures on social media
Insulting the Supreme Leader


May 2015: 12 years and nine months in prison

Date of Birth


Place of Birth




Atena Farghadani Released

Atena Farghadani is an artist and political activist. She was arrested in January 2015 and sentenced to almost 13 years in prison on a wide range of charges for drawing a cartoon that depicted members of the Iranian Parliament as animals. The appeals court later reduced her sentence to 18 months, and she was released on May 4, 2016.
In response to the charges against her, Farghadani wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which she said: "What you refer to as an 'insult to the representatives of parliament,' I deem to be artistic self-expression.“

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards first arrested Atena Farghadani on August 23, 2014. Reporting on the arrest, Amnesty International said that on the day, her parents’ house was searched, her personal belongings were confiscated and taken away and that she had been blindfolded throughout the ordeal.

At the time of her arrest, she was studying for a Bachelor of Arts at Al-Zahra University in Tehran.

Farghadani was arrested after meeting with the families of political prisoners and drawing a cartoon of Iranian parliamentarians with animal faces. The latter was drawn in reaction to two separate bills being considered by MPs at the time, which between them would outlaw voluntary sterilization, restrict access to contraceptives, and tighten divorce laws.

Following her arrest, she was held for five days in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Evin Prison, a part of the jail that is run by the Revolutionary Guards. She was later transferred to a cell that she shared with Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian prisoner of conscience arrested for protesting against the ban on women attending live volleyball matches. She was then returned to solitary confinement for another 10 days after she went on hunger strike in protest of her detention.

During this time, she was severely beaten and banned from seeing her family or lawyer. She was eventually released after settling a substantial bail, but banned from resuming her studies.

According to Amnesty International, Atena Farghadani later told the media she was interrogated for nine hours a day for six weeks while at Evin Prison. Interrogations focused on meetings she had with the families of those killed during the unrest that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election, as well as on her cartoon.

Following her release, Farghadani posted a video in Persian on YouTube describing how prison guards had mistreated her physically. She also stated that prison authorities had installed surveillance cameras in the bathrooms at Section 2A of Evin Prison. This is how they discovered she was taking paper cups from a rubbish bin in order to paint on them.

In her video message, she said: “The guards were whispering ‘why does she want the cups?’ One of them was saying ‘rewind the film back.’ One of the guards opened the cell door violently and shouted ‘take off your clothes.’ I told them that what they were doing was illegal. One of the guards, who swore a lot, held my hands up, because I was resisting the body search. My right hand hit the wall and my wrist became swollen and bruised. I told them that I was on ‘dry’ hunger strike and that I would file a complaint. One of them said to me ‘shut your mouth or I’ll hit you so hard that your mouth will be full of blood’.”

In response to the charges against her, Farghadani wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which she said: "What you refer to as an 'insult to the representatives of parliament,' I deem to be artistic self-expression.“


Arrested again, sentenced 12 years in prison

Instead of investigating Farghadani's allegations, authorities re-arrested her on January 10, 2015, shortly after her video was shared in the press and on social media.

Three weeks after her second arrest, Farghadani went back on hunger strike in protest of her conditions at Gharchak prison. She was taken to hospital in late February after having a heart attack and briefly losing consciousness. She was then transferred back to solitary confinement at Evin Prison.

Farghadani was tried on May 19, 2015 in Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided over by Abolghasem Salavati. On May 28, 2015, she was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison.

In October 2015, the news emerged that Farghadani faced additional charges, including “indecent conduct” and “illegitimate relations,” after shaking hands with her lawyer during a prison visit. Under Iranian law, it is illegal to shake hands with a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member. Farghadani was later acquitted of these charges.

In addition to imposing new charges on Farghadani, the young artist was also subjected to a “virginity test” in prison, a move that was condemned by human rights groups. 

On April 25, 2016, the appeals court reduced Farghadani's sentence to 18 months.

“The appeals court has made it possible for Miss Farghadani to return to a normal life and normal society,” her lawyer Mohammad Moghimi wrote on his Facebook page. “Thanks to the judge of the appeals court and to everyone who supported her.”

He also detailed the appeals court’s decision:

“Miss Farghadani has been acquitted of the charges of ‘gathering and colluding with counter-revolutionary elements’ and ‘acting against national security.’ The three-year prison sentence for ‘Insulting the Supreme Leader’ has been replaced by a four-year suspended sentence. Moreover, she has received a fine for ‘insulting members of parliament and the president’ and ‘insulting prison guards.’ She has been sentenced to 18 months in prison on the charge of ‘propaganda against the regime’,” he wrote. 

Farghadani was finally released from Evin Prison on May 3, 2016.

Officially, Iran says it doesn't imprison people for their opinions. Farghadani's main "crime" was to draw a picture of Iranian politicians as animals. Find out more about Farghadani's case in our podcast.


Read more about Atena Farghadani on Journalism Is Not A Crime:

Iranian Cartoonist Atena Farghadani Released

Atena Farghadani’s Sentence Reduced From 12 Years to 18 Months

Atena Farghadani Acquitted of Charge for Shaking Lawyer’s Hand

Atena Farghadani Forced to Take “Virginity Test” in Prison

Open Letter: Cartoonists Rights Network Urges Release of Young Iranian Artist

Jailed Artist on Hunger Strike to Protest Verbal Abuse

Jailed Artist Atena Farghadani Grateful for Award

Jailed Atena Farghadani Receives Award for Courage in Cartooning

Podcast: Art Under Attack

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