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

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web 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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs