An Iranian cartoonist was recently subjected to a virginity and pregnancy test after she was charged with “illegitimate sexual relations” for shaking hands with her lawyer, according to the international advocacy organization Amnesty International. Atena Farghadani is a 29 year old who is serving a nearly 13 year sentence for a satirical depiction of Iranian officials. She was on trial for that when the additional charge was brought against her.
Here’s some background on Farghadani’s case from Amnesty International:
Held in prison since January 2015, Atena Farghadani was sentenced in June 2015 to 12 years and nine months in prison for her peaceful activism, including meeting with families of political prisoners, and for drawing a satirical cartoon depicting legislators as monkeys, cows, and other animals. The cartoon was in protest at a bill that seeks to criminalize voluntary sterilization and restrict access to contraception and family planning services.
In December 2014, when she was out on bail she released a video message on YouTube protesting at how female prison guards at Evin prison had beaten her, verbally abused her and forced her to strip naked for a body search. Instead of investigating these allegations the Iranian authorities rearrested her in January 2015, possibly in reprisal for the video.
Although authorities have subjected women in countries ranging from Sweden to Indonesia to Egypt to virginity tests, many advocacy organizations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, believe that they could violate international provisions against inhuman and degrading treatment, or even torture.
In charging Farghadani with violating Iran’s strict laws on morality and subjecting her to a virginity test, Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International said, “[T]he Iranian judicial authorities have truly reached an outrageous low, seeking to exploit the stigma attached to sexual and gender-based violence in order to intimidate, punish or harass her.”
A “typical” sentence for “indecent contact between unmarried people of the opposite sex” is 74 lashes.
More than 21,000 people have signed a petition calling for Farghadani’s release, although the new charges against her could mean an even longer sentence.
Iranian-American artist Nikahang Kowsar understands well the hurdles that Farghadani has faced. He was imprisoned in his native Iran after he too drew cartoons critical of the country’s leaders.
Kowsar told the Washington Post in June that Farghadani’s cartoon was an “innocent” one:
“[Farghadani] is being punished for something many of us have been doing in Iran: drawing politicians as animals, without naming them. 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 [Farghadani] 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.”
According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the country’s jails hold more than 500 prisoners of conscience.