A young Iranian cartoonist and civil rights activist who was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison by a revolutionary court in Tehran is now charged with the crime of “indecency” for allegedly shaking her male lawyer’s hand during a visit to her in prison.
The additional charge says Atena Farghandani, 29, and her lawyer Mohammad Moghimi engaged in an “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery” due to the handshake, which is illegal in Iran.
Farghandani was arrested last August for drawing a political cartoon and speaking out against a law drafted last March that would severely restrict birth control for both men and women.
The cartoon portrayed legislators as animals casting their votes on the legislation.
Speaking to the International Campaign for Human Rights at the time, Moghimi said the sentence violated Iran’s new Islamic Penal Code, Article 134, which states that when there are multiple charges, the maximum sentence allowed is that of the punishment of the most severe crime.
In Faraghdani’s case, the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” was the most severe crime with which the cartoonist was charged. The maximum sentence allowable for such a crime in Iran is 7.5 years.
“According to our laws, activities on social networks on the Internet are not recognized as crimes," Moghimi added. “Additionally, Article 8 of the Iranian Constitution expresses that it is upon everyone to ‘prevent vice and promote virtue,’ and this is a two-way responsibility both the nation and the state have vis-à-vis each other.”
The Faraghdani trial was presided over by Judge Salavati. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran describes Salavti as “a notorious judge who is consistently handpicked to preside over ‘national security’ cases that security and intelligence organizations bring against political and civil activists, because of the harsh and maximum sentences he imposes.”
Salavati was also the judge presiding over the trial of the Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
Farghandani’s lawyer noted that in addition to sharing her cartoon and government criticism on Facebook, evidence against Farghandani included her visits with families of political prisoners and protesters who were killed at the Kharizak Police Detention Center in 2009, following the presidential election.
Farghandani was originally taken to Gharchak prison for four months where she said she was beaten and interrogated for up to nine hours a day.
During a brief release in December, she posted a video in Persian detailing her inhumane treatment, which included being strip-searched over a minor infraction and beaten and abused by guards. After she released the video, she was rearrested.
Close to two months later, Farghandani went on a hunger strike and suffered a heart attack. She has been kept in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin since that time.