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: March 12, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Tehran

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 12, 2018, Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at the University of Tehran, was convicted and sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment on charges of “spreading false information” and “propaganda against the state,” in apparent connection with his public comments regarding civil unrest in Iran. He was further banned him from political and social activities for two years.

Professor Zibakalam, who also teaches at the University of Tehran, is a prominent academic and political analyst known for his debates with conservatives on national media outlets with and his criticism of Iranian state policies. In 2014, he was convicted and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment (later reduced to a fine), on several charges including “weakening the regime” and “spreading propaganda against the state”, after publicly questioning Iran’s nuclear program.

On January 1, 2018, in the wake of the December 2017 protests across the country against economic conditions and government corruption, Professor Zibakalam gave an interview for Deutsche Welle’s Persian program, during which he commented on the civil unrest across the country. He reportedly said that the Iranian authorities would again accuse foreign powers of provoking the unrest in the same manner as they did regarding the 2009 protests following that year’s presidential election.

In March 2018, within weeks of learning that he had been dismissed from his part-time position at the Islamic Azad University, an Iranian court convicted and sentenced Professor Zibakalam to 18 months imprisonment on charges of “spreading false information” and “propaganda against the state.” He was also banned for two years from giving public speeches, publishing articles, giving interviews, and being active on social media. The charges reportedly are in connection with Professor Zibakalam’s recent remarks, including during the Deutche Welle interview. Professor Zibakalam has reportedly been given 20 days to appeal the ruling.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary prosecution and sentencing of a scholar in apparent retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain actions aimed at limiting the peaceful exercise of freedom of speech. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.