What can you get arrested for in Iran? The list grows longer by the day: for belonging to a religious or ethnic minority; for being a female spectator in a “masculine” sports stadium; for killing a man trying to rape you (for that, you will be not just arrested, but hanged); for being a foreign journalist “spy”; and even for simply having an opinion, despite Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s fervent (but dishonest) claims to the contrary.
The proof, you ask? It’s in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where extreme violence has been used against political prisoners in the past, emblematic of “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani’s failure to improve his country’s problematic rights record.
Now, one long-time Evin inmate is being tried for peaceful activism, and the world is refusing to keep quiet about it. Last year, Atena Farghadani, a 28-year-old painter who protested a draft law to outlaw IUDs and contraceptives with a cartoon depicting Iranian MPs as animals, was arrested on suspicion of spreading propaganda and insulting the clerical regime. Months later, she was released; then, she spoke up about her maltreatment in prison – and was incarcerated again, suffering a heart attack in the process.
But the world is behind Atena. From hashtags to posters, the call to free her has resounded on social media, with the Twitterverse exploding with #FreeAtena tweets addressed to everyone from the Obamas to Hassan Rouhani (one even featuring the cumbersome but apt hashtag #whatswitheveryonehatingoncartoonists) on the heels of Amnesty’s call to action. On Facebook, meanwhile, a Persian page supporting her has amassed thousands of likes, and media outlets and rights groups continue to report on the latest developments in the case. Will the international attention help Atena, whose life has already been torn apart by her country’s brutal crackdown on freedom of expression, fare better than compatriots such as Reyhaneh Jabbari, who were shown no mercy by the arms of Iranian justice?