News / Middle East

Scientists, Rights Activists Protest Treatment of Jailed Iranian Physicist

This undated photo shows Iranian physicist  Omid Kokabee. (photo provided by Ellen Huchinson)
This undated photo shows Iranian physicist Omid Kokabee. (photo provided by Ellen Huchinson)
Cecily Hilleary
Human rights groups, scientists and backers of academic freedom are stepping up efforts on behalf of Omid Kokabee, a young Iranian physicist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May 2010 on conspiracy charges.  
 
Kokabee is to be featured in an upcoming Amnesty International panel discussion in Washington D.C. on academic repression in Iran.  In September he was awarded the 2014 American Physical Society’s Andre Sakharov Prize for what the society described as his “courage in refusing to use his physics knowledge to work on projects that he deemed harmful to humanity in the face of extreme physical and psychological pressure.”  

Omid Kokabee. Image provided by Ellen Huchinson.Omid Kokabee. Image provided by Ellen Huchinson.
x
Omid Kokabee. Image provided by Ellen Huchinson.
Omid Kokabee. Image provided by Ellen Huchinson.
Kokabee, who is now 31, is considered one the brightest physicists of his generation. He graduated from Iran’s Sharif University of Technology and then went to Spain to obtain a Master’s degree from Barcelona’s Institute of Photonic Sciences. 

In 2010 he transferred to the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) to pursue studies in laser physics.  In his first semester, he worked as a teaching assistant, for which he received a stipend, and conducted research into the design and development of tunable lasers--superfast lasers that can be controlled and tuned over a broad wavelength range, something that cannot be easily done with conventional lasers.
 
Ellen Huchinson, a friend and fellow UTA graduate student, says the technology has many applications—from astronomy to medicine to enriching uranium for generating nuclear power or military weapons
 
“People are trying to figure out how to enrich uranium with lasers, and if that is successful, instead of using a large building with a centrifuge, tunable laser technology would basically make it possible to use a table-top device,” she said.   
 
In other words, this technology would allow researchers to enrich uranium in small plants or factories which would not necessarily show up on satellite imagery
 
Kokabee’s knowledge attracted attention
 
Omid made several trips to Iran while he was in Spain because his mother had health problems, Huchinson explains.  She says she believes this may have created suspicions in Iran.
 
“Omid went back to Iran in December of 2010 after the semester had ended,” Huchinson said.  “And while he was visiting his family, he was approached by the Iranian nuclear energy organization to work for them and he said no.” 
 
As it turns out, this was not the first time authorities had made him offers.

“Since 2005, I have been invited several times to work as a scientist and technical manager for military and intelligence projects,” Kokabee said in a letter to a former university roommate, translated by Nature magazine. “I was invited to work in the Research Centre of Malek Ashtar University in Isfahan. I was offered a doctorate scholarship by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran [AEOI] and I was invited to produce proposals for the projects led by the Defense Industries Organization,” Kokabee wrote. He said he refused all offers.

Kokabee was arrested at the Tehran airport in January 2011 as he was attempting to return to Texas and charged with “gathering and conspiring against the national security of the country.”

He spent months inside Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where he said he was threatened and intimidated into making a written confession.  In letters smuggled from prison he said he believes the real reason for his imprisonments was his refusal to cooperate with Iranian military projects.

He was tried in May 2012 along with a dozen men accused of spying for Israeli and US intelligence. He said he was not allowed to speak with his lawyer, Saeed Khalili, and prosecutors presented no evidence against him. He was charged with espionage and receiving income from a hostile government and given ten years in jail. 
 
“We basically figure that’s because he got grants from school,” said Huchinson.  Like all teaching assistants, the University of Texas provided him fiscal support, but his professors stress that these funds did not come from the US government.
 
Life in Evin “Hotel”
 
Omid has now spent nearly three years in Ward 350 of Evin prison, dubbed the “Hotel,” where many of Iran political prisoners are housed. A source close to Omid who asks not to be named said he is allowed visits only by immediate family members for a total of 20 minutes each week. “Even his mother cannot hug him.  Only rarely do they have meetings in person in which his mother can hug him.”
 
“Unfortunately,” the source said, “his physical health is not good. He suffers from kidney and stomach problems which he had from his childhood…his requests to be sent to a hospital outside prison for a visit or diagnosis have been denied.”
 
The source also said Omid stays busy by tutoring fellow inmates in English, Spanish and French.  He has translated two books from English into Farsi.  He recently submitted a paper on lasers to a prestigious annual Iranian conference on physics.  “He has been invited for an oral presentation, but unfortunately, they did not let him attend,” the source said.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
November 05, 2013 9:09 AM
Iran wants Omid to use his knowledge as a nuclear laser scientist in its military installation. Yet Iran says its nuclear program is for "peaceful" civilian electric and medical purposes. What an irony! What a twist! Shows how "truthful" Iran really is, how "sincere" Hassan Rouhani can get as the smiling, moderate cleric and president of islamic Republic of Iran. So who has believed this message before? And who will believe what the midget Ahmadinejad was saying then? Iran's pursuit of peace has only one meaning; elimination of opposition to the Khamenei dynasty - whether it is sunni, aramaic, Jewish or secular. Peace to Iran is one religious dynasty where every non-adherent is a slave worth less than a pigeon; a system where the blue turbine rules over the expanse of the globe giving respect and allegiance to direct descendant of the prophet. Omid's offense will be interpreted in Iran as a sin against God. If you check his prison file, he must have been tagged "enemy of god", unless they give him time to repent, minimum of which is the ten years "corrective" jail term.


by: Dr. Suleiman from: Iran
November 05, 2013 6:44 AM
what you omitted from mention is that Kokabee is an Iranian jew. and all jewish scientists and mathematicians are in mortal peril in Iran. Iran today is exactly like Nazi Germany. The world must do something about Iranian Mullahs and Ayatollahs... for the sake of the peace of humanity and the advancement of science.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid