Iran professor faces jail for ‘propaganda’ letters

Sadeq Zibakalam had publicly questioned the economic merit of country’s nuclear program

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor at the University of Tehran (photo credit: YouTube screen cap)
Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor at the University of Tehran (photo credit: YouTube screen cap)

A university professor faces 18 months in jail for questioning the merit of Iran’s nuclear program and for asking if a businessman convicted of fraud should have been executed.

Sadeq Zibakalam said on his Facebook page that he was found guilty by a Revolutionary Court of “committing propaganda against the system, spreading rumors and insulting the judiciary.”

Zibakalam, 66, who teaches politics at Tehran University, said he was given a 12-month sentence on account of letters he wrote to critics of the present government’s attempts to resolve the nuclear issue.

“What has the nuclear (program) produced for the country?” the letters read.

Tehran’s atomic drive has led to years of sanctions and hardship.

Zibakalam was given a separate six-month jail term for asking if Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, once considered Iran’s richest man, should have been sentenced to death for masterminding a $2.6 billion banking scam.

Amir Khosravi’s case, Iran’s biggest known fraud, shocked the political establishment in 2011. He was hanged in May.

Zibakalam, a supporter of President Hassan Rouhani, has appealed against the sentences. He had until now emerged unscathed from official retribution despite being very vocal in airing criticism in the past, especially of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hardliners in Iran — including the Kayhan newspaper editor Hossein Shariatmadari and MP Hamid Rasaie, to whom the letters were addressed — opposed an interim deal that Iran signed with world powers in November which put temporary curbs on Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for short-term sanctions relief.

“As I defended the government’s efforts to resolve the nuclear issue, I asked them what gains the nuclear (program) had produced for the country in terms of progress… and economic development,” Zibakalam said on Facebook.

Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program for energy purposes has put it at odds with world powers, who suspect Tehran harbors plans for an atomic bomb, for more than a decade.

Western sanctions on oil exports, banks and other industries have choked the Islamic republic’s economy, which remains in recession.

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