Middle East

Iranian artist goes on trial for cartoon mocking draft law

Atena Farghadani Image copyright Justice for Iran
Image caption Atena Farghadani faces charges of spreading propaganda and insulting the supreme leader

An artist and political activist has gone on trial in Iran for a cartoon criticising draft laws which would restrict access to birth control.

The image by Atena Farghadani depicted MPs casting votes on the proposed legislation as animals.

Ms Farghadani, 28, faces charges of spreading propaganda, insulting MPs, and insulting the supreme leader.

The laws would end decades of family planning in Iran, outlawing vasectomies and restricting contraception.

Ms Farghadani was first arrested in August 2014, when her home was raided by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and taken to Gharchak prison.

She was released in December but was rearrested again in January after posting a video online in which she alleged that she had been beaten by prison guards and interrogated for up to nine hours a day.

Three weeks after being rearrested, Ms Farghadani went on hunger strike to protest against conditions at the prison. She was taken to hospital in late February after suffering a heart attack and briefly losing consciousness.

She has since been held in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin Prison.

'Prisoner of conscience'

Raha Bahreini, an Iran researcher for Amnesty International, told the BBC: "We are very concerned that Atena has even been put on trial.

"She is a prisoner of conscience and she has been held solely because of her opinions and for exercising the right to free expression.

"From our point of view, she must be released immediately and unconditionally."

Ms Bahreini said that the trial might be as short as just one day. If convicted of all charges, Ms Farghadani could face up to two years' imprisonment and lashes.

Image caption Atena Farghadani's cartoon depicted members of parliament as animals

The draft laws mocked by Ms Farghadani's cartoon would outlaw vasectomies for men and voluntary sterilisation for women, and restrict women's access to birth control.

The legislation was widely criticised when it was announced in March. Amnesty said that if approved by parliament, it would set women's rights in Iran back by decades.

Women's rights groups warned that restricting access to birth control risked forcing women into unsafe abortions.

Ms Farghadani's cartoon has been shared on Twitter and Facebook since her arrest using the hashtag #freeatena, and a Facebook page set up to document her case has attracted messaged of support from around the world.

Responding to the charges laid against her in an open letter to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ms Farghadani said: "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!"

An Amnesty petition calling for Ms Farghadani's release garnered 33,000 signatures and was presented at the Iranian embassy in London on Monday.

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