Success! Iranian Artist & Women’s Rights Activist Atena Farghadani Is Free

Written by Jacqueline Hansen, Amnesty Canada 

Great news! Iranian artist and activist Atena Farghadani who was forced to undergo a “virginity test” is free!

Amnesty International considered her a Prisoner of Conscience, detained for her human rights work, and campaigned globally to secure her release. Thousands of Amnesty International supporters, including more than 10,000 people in Canada alone, have spoken out for her freedom since she was arrested. Thank you to all who wrote letters and signed petitions urging her release!

Atena had been serving a prison sentence of 12 years and nine months after being found guilty at an unfair trial in June last year of charges including ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘insulting members of parliament through paintings’. But on May 3, 2016 she was released after an appeal court in Tehran revised her sentence to 18 months, most of which Atena had already served.

Atena’s story

In August 2014, 12 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards came to Atena’s house. They confiscated her personal belongings, blindfolded her and took her to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. She was to be punished for her peaceful activities, including meeting with families of political prisoners and criticizing the authorities on social media and through her art, particularly a cartoon critical of two new government bills that would restrict the rights of women and girls in Iran by making it difficult to obtain contraception or seek a divorce.

Atena’s grossly unfair trial lasted just a half hour. The “evidence” against her relied on Atena’s answers under long stretches of interrogation, while she was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or her family.

While out on bail briefly, Atena reported that female guards had beaten her, verbally abused her and forced her to strip naked for a body search in Evin Prison. In January 2015, Atena went on hunger strike to protest that she was being held in extremely poor prison conditions. Atena’s health suffered considerably as a result; her lawyer told us she had suffered a heart attack.

Then in August 2015, Atena smuggled a note out of prison saying that the authorities had subjected her to a forced ‘virginity test’, which authorities later confirmed.

Painting as protest

While in prison, Atena flattened paper cups to use them as a surface to paint on. When the prison guards realised what she had been doing, they confiscated her paintings and stopped giving her paper cups. When Atena found some cups in the bathroom, she smuggled them into her cell. Soon after, she was beaten by prison guards, when she refused to strip naked for a full body search.

Global solidarity

Atena’s case sparked international outcry, including the social media campaign #Draw4Atena, with cartoonists from all over the world sharing their work in support of her case. UPDATE: Just two days after her release, Atena was awarded the 2016 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

The work continues

Amnesty International is calling on the Iranian authorities to investigate Atena’s torture and other ill-treatment. We are also calling for her conviction and four-year suspended sentence to be quashed. Suspended sentences are often used in Iran to create a climate of fear, coercing activists, journalists and others into silence or self-censorship.

Atena’s release comes at a time when scores of others face harsh prison sentences imposed for their peaceful human rights activism.

Thank you for continuing to speak out for the brave individuals who face persecution for exercising their right to the peaceful expression of their beliefs. Atena’s freedom is an inspiring reminder that we are powerful when we stand together.

Photo Credit: Facebook


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

good news

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Laurie Mazzeo
Laurie Mazzeo1 years ago

We should all be campaigning for regime change and a ban on religion based administration ...SOME HOPE HUH???

Laurie Mazzeo
Laurie Mazzeo1 years ago

Very sad that she was imprisoned ...good news she is now released...but when are the authorities that put her there going to be forced to accept the very basics of human rights the rest of the world enjoys??

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle1 years ago

I am pleased to see her release. There are many others who should not be punished still in prison.

Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer1 years ago

There are others in Evan Prison also suffering. There are currently 80 Baha'is in prison, all on false charges related solely to their religious belief.

Saeeda M.
Saeeda Makhlooq1 years ago

Shocking. Thanks for sharing!

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Marija Mohoric
Marija Mohoric1 years ago

Good news, tks for sharing