161 PhD Students Demand Immediate Medical Attention and Judicial Review for Omid Kokabee
In a statement of solidarity with the imprisoned Iranian scientist Omid Kokabee, 161 doctoral students and graduates from universities around the world have released an open letter, demanding medical attention and due process for him. “We, a group of 161 Iranian PhD students and graduates, demand immediate medical attention to this Iranian scholar’s health situation, as well as a review of the judicial process that has led to Omid’s unfair imprisonment. We believe Omid should be in the university, not in prison,” says the statement.
Stating that “Omid’s prosecution, for the most part, was a result of his refusal to work in nuclear projects,” the 161 signatories warn that “one of the consequences of such treatment of [Iranian] professionals abroad, is these individuals’ lack of interest in returning to and serving the country.”
There was renewed hope recently for Kokabee’s release, after Iran’s Supreme Court explicitly rejected the legal basis of his prosecution and sentencing. Branch 36 of Iran’s Supreme Court ordered the review of Kokabee’s case, according to a ruling it issued on October 11, 2014, which was recently made public by his lawyer.
“As stated in [an earlier] letter signed by 25 Physics Nobel Laureates, the young Iranian physicist Omid Kokabee has been in prison for more than three years. A PhD student at University of Texas in Austin, he was arrested in Tehran during a trip he took to visit his family in January 2011. After spending months in solitary confinement, he was sentenced to ten years in prison during a short trial. The prosecutor used Omid’s financial aid for research at the state university for charges of ‘receiving illegitimate income,’ and ‘contact with hostile states.’ It goes without saying that thousands of Iranian students studying outside Iran, including many of the signatories of this letter, have received and will receive this type of financial aid,” the open letter declared.
“Omid Kokabee’s health has seriously deteriorated during the three years he spent in prison. He has lost four of his teeth as a result of negligence by Evin Prison medical staff, and on five occasions he has had to deal with the horrific pain of kidney stones. He needs immediate specialist medical attention for his heart condition and his digestive system,” states the letter.
Iranian students from distinguished universities worldwide, such as Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology, M.I.T, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and Columbia have signed the letter. Among the 161 names on the letter, there are several winners of International Science Olympiad competitions in physics, math, computer science, and biology.
Omid Kokabee, 33, was a post-doctoral Nuclear Physics student at the University of Texas at Austin at the time of his arrest on January 30, 2011, at Tehran’s International Airport. He was about to leave the country after visiting family in Iran. He was kept in solitary confinement for over a month during his 15-month pre-trial detention, and his family and lawyer were not allowed access to him.
On May 14, 2012, he was sentenced to ten years in prison by Judge Salavati for “contact with enemy states” and other falsified charges. Kokabee was one of thirteen individuals who were accused of espionage charges during the show trial. He refused to offer any defense during the trial. Iranian Judiciary officials have so far been unable to provide any evidence for the charges for which they prosecuted and convicted the physicist. In an open letter from Evin Prison, Kokabee wrote in 2013 that his arrest followed his refusal to cooperate with security agents on a military research project.