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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid