Pictures can be a powerful way of holding up a mirror to the world, and repressive states know this all too well. These four artists are paying the ultimate price for standing up to authorities peacefully– with their freedom. This World Press Freedom Day, we take a look at their supposed crimes and the works of art that got them there.
Iranian cartoonist and women’s rights activist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison last June. In less than a year behind bars, she’s been forced to undergo a virginity test and suffered beatings by prison guards. She is reported to have had a heart attack after going on a hunger strike while detained at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Imprisoned: June 2015
Sentence: 12 years and nine months, recently reduced to a fine and nine months
Her ‘crime’: Drawing a cartoon showing a group of Iranian MPs with the faces of monkeys and cows. Her charges include “insulting members of parliament through paintings”.
This cartoon was drawn in response to two separate bills being considered by MPs at the time to criminalise voluntary sterilisation and restrict access to contraceptives.
Latest news: Last week, Farghadani’s sentence was drastically reduced, thanks to an acquittal facilitated by her lawyer. She’ll be eligible for release at the end of this month.
Sayed Ahmed al-Mosawi
Al-Mosawi, an internationally known photographer, is currently being held at Dry Dock jail in Bahrain, where he has been beaten and given electric shocks. His work includes a range of subjects such as wildlife and daily life in Bahrain in addition to opposition protests. According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the government has frequently abused an overly broad definition of terrorism as a tool to crackdown on independent reporting of anti-government demonstrations.
Imprisoned: February 2014
Sentence: 10 years’ imprisonment and his citizenship revoked. Since 2012, Bahrain has revoked the citizenship of more than 130 Bahrainis, including journalists, human rights defenders, and accused terrorists.
His ‘crime’: Rioting and participating in a terror organization, according to news reports.
Latest news: In February, Bahrain released four American journalists from police custody, but is still holding seven Bahraini journalists, including al-Mosawi.
Yefei is just one of almost 50 journalists known to be imprisoned in China by the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was recognised as an asylum seeker in Thailand by the UN last year but was repatriated back to China after drawing caricatures ridiculing president Xi Jinping. His whereabouts and legal status are now unknown.
Imprisoned: Detained in Thailand since mid-October 2015. He fled to Thailand as a Chinese dissident and asylum seeker under the UN but was deported back to China within months. His wife claims Chinese agents posed as United Nations officials in order to abduct her husband and a fellow rights-advocate in November 2015.
His ‘crime’: Drawing caricatures ridiculing Chinese President Xi Jinping. He is yet to be charged with a legitimate international offense. In 2008, he was jailed and tortured for ten months for taking part in an event commemorating those killed in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.
Latest news: His current whereabouts and condition are not known, along with a spate of other missing Chinese dissidents in Thailand and Hong Kong.
Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as ‘Shawkan’
Abou Zeid is a passionate photojournalist, imprisoned for taking pictures of people protesting on the streets of Cairo. He is currently believed to be held at Tora prison, where his health has rapidly deteriorated and he lives in terrible conditions. He has been in detention for more than two years, in violation of Egyptian law, and is the only Egyptian journalist to have been held beyond this two-year cap.
Imprisoned: August 2013. Appeared before a judge in May 2015 for the first time since his arrest.
His ‘crime’: Accused by the Egyptian general prosecutor’s office of weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder, and attempted murder, the same allegations levelled at hundreds present at clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
Latest: On 26 March 2016, an official from the public prosecution directed nine phony charges against Abou Zeid. He now faces life imprisonment or the death penalty. Sign Amnesty International’s current petition for his release.
For more information about journalists currently being detained for their work, visit the Committee to Protect Journalists website.