top of page

Iran jails regime critic Sadegh Zibakalam

Iranian academic and government critic Sadegh Zibakalam has been jailed on "propaganda" charges. In 2018, Zibakalam received DW's Freedom of Speech Award for his daring criticism of Iran's leadership. By Wesley Rahn

Zibakalam received DW's Freedom of Speech Award in 2018Image: DW/U. Wagner

Sadegh Zibakalam, a distinguished former political science professor and prominent critic of the Iranian regime, has been detained and sentenced to jail, according to Iranian media reports.

The charges against Zibakalam were related to spreading "propaganda" against the Islamic Republic, as reported by the Iranian judiciary's news website Mizan.

The report said Zibakalam will serve at least 18 months. He is to be sent to Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where numerous political prisoners, including human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, are incarcerated.

Mohammadi and other Evin inmates have reported accounts of torture and other human rights abuses taking place inside the prison.

Who is Sadegh Zibakalam?

Although Zibakalam frequently ran afoul of Iran's regime, this is the first time he has been jailed. The 75-year-old had recently published a book titled, "Why Don't They Take You?".

"I wrote this book because I am constantly asked why I am not arrested," Zibakalam told Iran's online news portal Khabar in an interview published over the weekend.

"Maybe it is not worth arresting me," he added.

Before the news of his arrest broke on Sunday, Zibakalam was expected to attend the book's launch at a Tehran book fair.

What do we know about the case against Zibakalam?

According to the news television channel Iran International, Zibakalam's arrest is related to comments he made about the Kerman bombing in January, which killed 89 people and was claimed by the so-called ISIS-K terror group.

The blast targeted mourners at the grave site of slain Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani.

In an interview with the international radio broadcaster Voice of America in Farsi, Zibakalam disagreed with the Iranian government's claims that Israel was involved in the bombing.

Zibakalam received DW's Freedom of Speech Award in 2018Image: DW/U. Wagner

The academic has been a vocal critic of Iran's Islamic system for many years. He is known for holding intense debates with government officials, and criticizing their stance on domestic and foreign policy matters.

In the wake of the mass protest movement against the Iranian regime that was sparked by the death of Jina Mahsa Amini in September 2022, Zibakalam stepped up his criticism of the Iranian regime on social media.

At the same time, Zibakalam's critics have accused him of having connections with Iran's ruling elite. In 2019, photos were published online showing Zibakalam meeting with religious and political leaders of the Islamic Republic.

Previously, he said he accepted "all invitations," even from people he disagreed with.

"I have something to say, and I firmly believe that we need dialogue," he said in a 2016 video recorded in his office.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi has a heart condition. She has been jailed because of her commitment to human rights. Her husband reports that prison authorities have denied her vital medical examinations. He is deeply disturbed by Navalny's death. He appeals to the public not to forget political prisoners.

Poet and teacher Mahvash Sabet

Mahvash Sabet was imprisoned from 2008 to 2017 because of her Bahá'í faith. After serving that sentence, she was freed, only to be jailed again five years later. According to the judge, she had "not learned her lesson." She is serving a 10-year sentence. Sabet claims she told her interrogator, "I will leave prison one day," with him answering: "Whether horizontally or vertically, we decide."

Javad Rouhi

Rouhi was arrested in the summer of 2022 during the nationwide "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests. He received three death sentences for allegedly attacking police officers and "burning a Quran." In August 2023, he died in prison from "unknown causes," according to the judiciary. According to Amnesty International, he had no known pre-existing medical conditions prior to his imprisonment.

Image: aftabnews

Filmmaker Baktash Abtin

Abtin also died in prison. He had been sentenced to six years in jail for alleged "propaganda against the state." In December 2021, he contracted coronavirus in prison. Despite his history of lung disease, prison staff refused medical treatment for so long that he eventually had to be placed in an induced coma and died shortly afterward.

Image: Iranian Writers' Association

Sociology professor Kavous Seyed-Emami

Seyed-Emami was a respected environmentalist. In January 2018, he was arrested on alleged espionage charges. Two weeks later, he died under unexplained circumstances in Tehran's Evin prison. The judiciary claims that he took his own life. It is still not clear how he would be able to do this in a video-monitored solitary cell.

Blogger Sattar Beheshti

Beheshti was arrested in October 2012 for criticizing the government online. A week later, his relatives were asked to collect his body from the prison. In an open letter from prison, 41 fellow inmates confirmed that he had suffered severe injuries to his entire body. His mother is still campaigning for justice today.

Student protesters: Amir Javadifar, Mohsen Rouholamini (center), Mohammad Kamrani

The three men were arrested in 2009 for their participation in mass protests against the controversial reelection of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They died in prison the same year. Their fellow prisoners later confirmed that they were severely tortured during their arrest and in prison. According to their families, traces of severe injuries were visible on their bodies.

DW Freedom of Speech Award laureate

Zibakalam is one of the few remaining critics of Iran's political system still based in the country.

At the time, he was facing a jail sentence over an earlier interview he had given to DW. His comments focused on Iranians protesting over the deteriorating economic situation. Zibakalam had said the protests were organized by ordinary Iranians and not by "foreign powers," as the government was claiming.

He managed to avoid jail time in that instance, though the circumstances remain unclear.

Zibakalam dedicated his DW award to political prisoners in Iran.

Written using material from DPA news agency

Edited by: Darko Janjevic

Second publication by courtesy of DW


bottom of page