Illustration: Iranian nuclear plant
Illustration: Iranian nuclear plantAFP photo

An Iranian university professor faces 18 months in jail for questioning the merit of the country’s nuclear program and for asking if a businessman convicted of fraud should have been executed, AFP reported on Thursday.

The professor, Sadeq Zibakalam, said on his Facebook page that he was found guilty by a Revolutionary Court of “committing propaganda against the system, spreading rumors and insulting the judiciary.”

Zibakalam, 66, who teaches politics at Tehran University, said he was given a 12-month sentence on account of letters he wrote to critics of the present government’s attempts to resolve the nuclear issue.

“What has the nuclear (program) produced for the country?” said the letters, according to AFP.

Zibakalam was given a separate six-month jail term for asking if Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, once considered Iran’s richest man, should have been sentenced to death for masterminding a $2.6 billion banking scam.

Amir Khosravi’s case, Iran’s biggest known fraud, shocked the political establishment in 2011. He was hanged in May.

Zibakalam, a supporter of President Hassan Rouhani, has appealed against the sentences. He had until now emerged unscathed from official retribution despite being very vocal in airing criticism in the past, especially of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

 “As I defended the government’s efforts to resolve the nuclear issue, I asked them what gains the nuclear (program) had produced for the country in terms of progress… and economic development,” Zibakalam was quoted as having written on Facebook.

Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program has put it at odds with world powers, who suspect Tehran harbors plans for an atomic bomb, for more than a decade.

Western sanctions on oil exports, banks and other industries have choked the Islamic Republic’s economy, which remains in recession.

Iran and the West reached an interim deal in November, under which Iran committed to limit its uranium enrichment to five percent and is gradually winning access to $4.2 billion of its oil revenues frozen abroad and some other sanctions relief.

The sides are now holding talks in an attempt to turn the interim deal into a permanent one by a July 20 deadline. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that the sides have started drafting a comprehensive nuclear agreement, but “there are still many differences" over the text.