Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian cartoonist jailed in latest media crackdown

Hadi Heidari, who had drawn cartoons in solidarity with Beirut and Paris after attacks, had been previously jailed

Hadi Heidari cartoon in solidarity with Paris after the recent attacks on the city
Hadi Heidari/ Courtesy of International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Prominent cartoonist Hadi Heidari has been arrested by Iranian authorities and has been sent to Evin prison to complete a suspended sentence.

His lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told Reuters news agency on Tuesday that Heidari, who works for Shahrvand newspaper, had served a month of the original sentence, although it was not clear why he had been re-arrested at this time.

Heidari had recently published cartoons in solidarity with Beirut and Paris after those cities were attacked by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant last week. Iran has condemned both attacks.

It's common practice for journalists in Iran to have an agreement signed with an attorney in anticipation of being arrested, because there is no guarantee of when a detainee can speak to an attorney after being arrested, and Nikbakht said that he had met with Heidari a few days ago.

The cartoonist, who had been arrested at least twice before, told his lawyer that he was “expecting to be arrested alongside other journalists.”

According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the country's Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Organization has intensified its crackdown against journalists, arresting a number of editors and columnists accused of being part of a U.S.-led plot to “infiltrate” the Islamic Republic.

Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based rights group, told Al Jazeera America that Heidari's arrest is “a continuation of the wave of intimidation against the media and journalists, and he [Heidari] has been at the forefront of political editorial cartoons in Iran.”

Along with other journalists being arrested in Iran now, Ghaemi said Heidari was “touching on issues ahead of an [parliamentary] election coming up in February.”

Although Heidari had not produced anything specifically objectionable to authorities recently, he has always been quite outspoken about the issues of fear, intimidation and censorship facing the media in Iran.

Part of what makes a  political cartoonist such as Heidari a target is that cartoons transcend language, and, said Ghaemi, “in a glance can transmit more powerfully than a whole column can.”

Heidari has worked for a number of reformist publications and arrested two years ago He convicted for drawing cartoons officials found objectionable, including one of a line of blindfolded men, considered by authorities to be insulting to veterans if the Iran-Iraq war.

Heidari had also been arrested on charges of “collusion against national security” in 2009 in the turmoil that followed the disputed presidential election there that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad take his second term in office.

He was released roughly two weeks later, but was arrested again the following year, accused of propaganda against the state. He was released on bail, and is now among the wave of journalists, including Issa Saharkhiz and Ehsan Mazndarani being arrested on security or propaganda charges in recent weeks.

Ghaemi said the arrests are happening for a number of reasons.

“It's a combination of the post-nuclear [agreement] crackdown as well as the upcoming elections … [the arrested journalists] have been daring to be critical and have not been silenced,” he said, referring the July 2015 deal that could see harsh sanctions against Iran lifted in exchange for concessions given to the west on its nuclear program

“The crackdown is an attempt to keep the status quo, to show that while the Islamic Republic has bent under the nuclear deal, that domestically, nothing has changed.”

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