Scholar Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Criticizing Iran Nuclear Program and the Judiciary
The Iranian Judiciary has sentenced Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran University scholar, to one and a half years in prison for his criticism of the Iranian nuclear program and of the Iranian Judiciary on charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic regime,” “publishing falsehoods to create public anxiety,” and “insulting judges and Judiciary officials.”
In a status update on his Facebook page on June 18, 2014, prominent political analyst and Tehran University professor Sadegh Zibakalam wrote that he has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for criticizing the Iranian government’s policies on its nuclear program and the Judiciary’s treatment of suspects of financial corruption.
The outspoken popular analyst wrote on his Facebook page that he has appealed the ruling. Expanding on the reasons for his charges, Zibakalam wrote that his charges stem from two open letters he wrote to the ultra-conservative Kayhan Newspaper’s Chief Editor Hossein Shariatmadari and Member of the Parliament Hamid Rasaei, in which he asked them “What benefit and results has the nuclear policy had for the advancement, growth, and development of the country’s economy?” Zibakalam wrote that he received one year in prison for this question, and for criticizing the trial process in the case that has come to be known as the $2.6 billion bank fraud, he received another six-month sentence.
Questioning the nuclear program is a red line for analysts and the press in Iran. In December 2013, citing a Supreme National Security Council resolution, the Iranian Government sent a confidential directive to Iranian newspapers and news agencies, forbidding them to write or report directly about the nuclear negotiations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In his letter to Hossein Shariatmadari, which was used by the court to convict Mr. Zibakalam, he wrote: “A country whose per capita medical treatment and education budget compares to that of under-developed African countries, its environment has turned into a big dumpster,…faces 5.6 million unemployed individuals, and has a thousand and one other problems, is it prudent to spend all its resources on its nuclear programs?”
In a February 2013 article, Mr. Zibakalam criticized the rulings in the $2.6 billion bank scam, and called the top suspect in the case, Mahafarid Khosravi, who had been sentenced to death by the court, “a genius” who had created jobs, comparable to international figures such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and described him a victim of the Judiciary’s rush “to soothe public opinion.” Mr. Khosravi was executed on May 24, 2014.