A professor at the University of Tehran announced on his Facebook page Wednesday that he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for questioning Iran’s spending on its nuclear program.
Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor at the University of Tehran, confirmed to Reuters on Thursday Iranian news reports of his conviction, after he questioned the wisdom of vast state spending on a nuclear power programme that the West suspects is a front for developing weapons technology.
“I was the first one to publicly ask critics of the Geneva deal, ‘What has the nuclear program done for this country? How will an agreement be a problem for the country?'” said Zibakalam who is free pending an appeal.
Zibakalam stated that the money spent on the nuclear program “would be better spent on education and health.” The conviction doesn’t mean that he will actually serve the time. Zibakalam told Reuters that he is hopeful that the sentence will be reversed on appeal.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran provides some context to the story.
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 an interview with Robin Wright earlier this year, chief Iranian nuclear negotiator and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said regarding his country’s nuclear program, “debate is healthy, heated or otherwise.”
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