Iranian police officers walk in Tehran in April 2023. Authorities arrested cartoonist Atena Farghadani at Evin Prison in Tehran after she responded to a summons on June 7, 2023. (Reuters/West Asia News Agency/Majid Asgaripour)

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani detained on undisclosed charges

New York, June 8, 2023—Iranian authorities must release cartoonist Atena Farghadani and stop their unabated efforts to silence commentators and members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday. 

On Wednesday, June 7, authorities arrested Farghadani at Evin Prison in the capital city of Tehran after she responded to a summons to appear at the prison’s courthouse, according to news reports, which cited tweets by her lawyer Mohammad Moghimi.

Earlier that day, Farghadani published a satirical political cartoon of people with animal and satanic faces, which was the first time she had published on her Instagram account—where she posts political cartoons and has more than 20,000 followers—since February 2020. CPJ could not immediately determine why she was summoned and arrested or whether she had been formally charged.

In 2015, authorities sentenced Farghadani to 12 years and nine months in prison for “assembly and collusion against national security” for a cartoon depicting Iranian parliament members as animals, which she published on her Facebook page. Authorities released her on May 3, 2016, before her sentence ended.

“Iranian authorities must release cartoonist Atena Farghadani immediately and unconditionally,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “This cycling of journalists and commentators through prison is a continuation of authorities’ long-standing revolving door policy and a hallmark of Iran’s failure to respect the rule of law.”

In the caption of her June 7 cartoon, Farghadani wrote that she had made the piece “in the privacy of my own home” and that it did not involve “the Islamic Republic and its agents.”

In August 2015, Cartoonist Rights Network International honored Farghadani with its Courage in Editorial Cartooning award.

CPJ’s email to Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not receive a reply.

Since mid-April, Iran authorities have arrested at least four journalists. Iran was the world’s worst jailer of journalists at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2022, prison census.

In its 2015 special report, “Drawing the Line,” CPJ found that cartoonists are often targeted for harassment because their satirical portraits, whether backhanded or overt, communicate complex political ideas in a form that is accessible and resonates with mass audiences.