We are fortunate in Salisbury to have the support of the Cathedral which has a prisoner of conscience window and the Amnesty candle. They also allow us to put prisoner of conscience details for people to pick up and act on if they wish. This is changed once a month by group member Tony.
It sometimes seems like a forlorn battle being an Amnesty supporter. The tide of executions, arrests for peacefully protesting, torture and other state crimes seems inexorable. Despite countries signing solemn pledges in the UN, persecution by states of their own people and minorities continues on a grand scale around the world.
But a light sometimes does shine and in a recent report, Amnesty claims that 650 prisoners were released last year due in part to our
campaigning. Albert Woodfox was released from 44 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana, USA and he said:
Even when it feels like you are not going to win, when you grow disillusioned with politics which put geed before people’s human rights. when you don’t think you can make a difference – please remember that if you had not taken a stand and joined hundreds of thousands of activist around the world, I may not have been able to write this to you today.
On 1 June, Atena Farghadani, a 29-year-old painter and activist, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison simply because she was seen to be critical of the Iranian regime in her art and in her peaceful activism.
Atena had used her right to freedom of expression to show her dissent at a new government Bill in a cartoon she’d drawn; she associated with the families of political prisoners; she posted anti-government messages on Facebook.
Atena’s peaceful activism led to her arrest in August 2014, a period of detention and release before being rearrested in November.
In June 2015, she was prosecuted by the Iranian state and found guilty of charges including:
Gathering and colluding against national security
Insulting members of parliament through paintings
Spreading propaganda against the system
Insulting the President and insulting the Supreme Leader.
Atena’s trial lasted just half a day. 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.
Atena is now imprisoned for 12 years and nine months, simply for being seen to be critical of the authorities.
Now facing adultery charges for shaking hands with her lawyer
Atena’s lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, visited Atena in prison after her trial and shook her hand. The handshake led to charges of ‘illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery’ and ‘indecent conduct’ being brought against both Atena and her lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, who will be tried for those charges in due course.
Mohammad was arrested on 13 June for shaking Atena’s hand, and released three days later after he’d paid a bail amounting to around $60,000. Both Mohammad and Atena will be tried for indecent conduct and illegitimate sexual relationship for shaking hands in prison.
On 9 October we saw a note leaked from prison by Atena that said ahead of her trial for this ‘crime’ she was forced to have a virginity and pregancy test – apparently to investigate the charge against her. Such virginity testing is internationally recognised as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls.
Iran’s judicial authorities really have reached a new low. Tell them they must immediately release Atena and investigate the mistreatment she says she’s experienced.
Prisoner of conscience
Atena has effectively been punished for her cartoons with a sentence that is itself a gross caricature of justice. No one should be in jail for their art or peaceful activism” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa
Atena is a prisoner of conscience – she has committed no real crime. She is being unfairly punished simply for exercising her right to free speech, association and assembly. Iran has pledged to protect free speech, including through artistic activities, as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Please sign the petition and call on Iran’s Supreme Leader and the Head of the Iranian Judiciary to release Atena immediately.
Beaten in detention, punished for speaking out
Last August, 12 members of the Revolutionary Guards came to Atena’s house. They confiscated her personal belongings, blindfolded her and took her to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Atena was released in November last year, but rearrested just six weeks later. In the time that she was released, she gave media interviews and posted a video on YouTube describing how the prison guards had interrogated her for 9 hours every day for six weeks. She said that female prison guards had beaten her and subjected her to degrading body searches.
Just weeks after posting her YouTube video, Atena was once again arrested – possibly as reprisal for speaking out.
Hunger strike in protest at prison conditions
Atena was kept in solitary confinement for over two weeks when she was detained last year in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. During that time she was denied access to her lawyer or family. After her release from detention, she said that she’d been beaten by prison guards.
Three weeks after she was rearrested in January this year, Atena went on hunger strike to protest that she was being held in extremely poor prison conditions, in a jail that does not have a section for political prisoners. Atena’s health suffered considerably as a result; her lawyer told us that Atena had suffered a heart attack and briefly lost consciousness in late February as a result of her hunger strike.
Call on Iran to release Atena and reunite her with her family immediately: she has committed no crime.
If you are moved to sign the petition, please go to: