Scholar’s 18-Month Prison Sentence for Questioning Nuclear Program Commuted to Fines
A Tehran appeals court has reduced the 18-month prison sentence originally handed down to Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran University professor and political analyst, for his public questioning of Iran’s nuclear program and his criticism of the trial process in a state corruption case, to a five million toman fine (approximately $1,600).
In a blog post addressed to the judges of Branch 36 of Tehran Appeals Court, Zibakalam wrote, “Perhaps many viewed my verdict suspiciously from the beginning, and no doubt their suspicions are realized now, but I know full well just how serious that sentence was and how and why some gentlemen were truly after sending me to Evin,” he wrote.
Zibakalam’s charges stem from two open letters he wrote in February 2014 to the ultra-conservative Kayhan Newspaper’s Chief Editor Hossein Shariatmadari and Member of 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 on his Facebook page that he received one year in prison for this question. 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. Zibakalam was charged with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” “publishing falsehoods to create public anxiety,” and “insulting judges and Judiciary officials.” He was released on bail of 50 million toman (approximately $16,700).
Questioning Iran’s nuclear program is a red line for analysts and the press in the country. 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 Zibakalam’s letter to Hossein Shariatmadari, 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?”