SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 18, 2014

Attack Types: Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Tehran

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor at the University of Tehran, was sentenced to 18-month in prison on June 18, 2014, after being convicted for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic regime,” “publishing falsehoods to create public anxiety,” and “insulting judges and Judiciary officials.”
Zibakalam, an outspoken writer and political analyst who frequently appears on international news outlets including the BBC and al-Jazeera, had published open letters to the chief editor of Iran’s Kayhan Newspaper and to Hamid Rasaei, a member of Iran’s parliament, questioning the benefits of Iran’s nuclear policy.  In his letter to the newspaper, which was reportedly used as an exhibit in his prosecution, Professor Zibakalam asked “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?”
Separately, Professor Zibakalam had publicly challenged the trial process in the criminal bank fraud case of Mahafarid Khosravi, a case widely reported in Iran in which the defendant, a successful entrepreneur, was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death. 
Professor Zibakalam was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, one year for the former statement, and six months for the latter.  According to a statement published in Persian by Zibakalam on his Facebook page, he is appealing the ruling.  
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent, expressive activity which is related to his professional expertise and protected by internationally recognized human rights standards.  State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly.  Prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.