Iran: Political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam given jail sentence over DW interview

An Iranian court has sentenced Sadegh Zibakalam to 18 months in prison. The prominent political analyst is accused of "spreading lies and propaganda against the Islamic Republic" in an interview he gave to DW.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court handed down a jail sentence to Sadegh Zibakalam on Tuesday, citing critical comments he made during an "interview with a Persian-language foreign medium."

Politics | 03.01.2018

Zibakalam, a professor of political science at the University of Tehran, spoke about the recent unrest in Iran during an appearance on Deutsche Welle's Persian program in January.

The court accused the academic of using the interview to spread "false information" and "propaganda against the Islamic Republic." He was also banned from giving public speeches, publishing articles, giving interviews, and being active on social networks and the internet.

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Demonstrations are spreading across Iran

DW monitoring the case

Speaking to DW by phone immediately after the ruling, Zibakalam said the verdict's text described Deutsche Welle as a "counter-revolutionary and hostile website."

DW Director Peter Limbourg said "classifying the media as hostile is symptomatic of dictatorships, like the regime in Tehran."  

"They seem to be aware of their own weakness to be casting such verdicts. We will monitor the case of Prof. Zibakalam closely and support him."

Read moreProtests in Iran: The genie is out of the bottle

Under Article 500 of Iran's criminal code, such propaganda-related offenses carry a sentence of between three and 12 months. The Revolutionary Court delivered a much harsher verdict in Zibakalam's case because he is considered a "repeat offender" — he was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2014 for the same charge but the punishment was subsequently downgraded to a fine.

Zibakalam said he planned to appeal the 18-month sentence.

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Unrest in Iran

In his interview with DW in January, Zibakalam commented on the "disappointment of the demonstrators in the entire system apparatus" and said that "if there were a referendum on the political system in Iran now, 70 percent of the people would say no to an Islamic Republic."

In December, tens of thousands of people took part in nationwide protests against corruption and economic hardship. More than 20 people were killed and around 450 were arrested in the unrest.

DW's Persian program has been blocked in Iran since 2009. Alexander Freund, head of DW's Asia programs, said the allegations against Zibakalam were completely unfounded.

"The reprisals against our interviewee are absolutely unacceptable," he said, adding that the blockade of DW's Farsi program should be immediately lifted.

Sadegh Zibakalam studied political science at the University of Bradford. He is the author of several bestselling books, including How Did We Become What We Are? and An Introduction to Islamic Revolution. 


Disillusionment on the rise

High unemployment, high inflation and a deepening divide between poor and wealthy Iranians: The economic crisis in Iran is a major cause of frustration for many people. The easing of international sanctions following the 2015 nuclear deal has not improved people's living conditions as expected.


Public uprising

The majority of protesters so far are poor Iranians. People from major cities across the country converged on the capital, Tehran, to vent their anger when demonstrations began on December 28. They have since expanded to cities and towns in almost every province.


Political demands

It is not clear who is spearheading the protests, or if anyone is leading them at all. The demands have, however, become more political: stop backing the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, no intervention in Syria and Iraq. The protesters are urging the government to focus on domestic problems. There have also been calls for Ayatollah Khamenei to step down.


'Enemies of Iran'

Five days after the demonstrators first took to the streets, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, reacted to the protesters' demands, accusing "enemies of Iran" of using "different tools including cash, weapons, politics and [the] intelligence apparatus to create troubles for the Islamic Republic."


Harsh response

Authorities report that 450 people were arrested in connection with the protests. Twenty-one people are believed to have died in violent clashes, among them 16 demonstrators. They are the largest protests Iran has seen since the disputed 2009 presidential election.

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