Omid Kokabee

With thousands of people having signed a petition asking for the release of Omid Kokabee from a prison in Iran, he was recently granted a retrial from the Iranian judicial system. 

Kokabee, a former UT physics graduate student, has been imprisoned in his home country of Iran since 2011. The petition was turned into the Iranian Mission at the United Nations in New York City on Tuesday, according to Amnesty International. 

Physics professor Herbert Berk said the petition, signed by 31 Physics Nobel Laureates, could help get Kokabee released from prison.  

“Historically, if people are interested in people in jail, it usually makes a difference to make a statement,” said Berk, who also serves as chairman for the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists. “It should make a difference.”

According to Amnesty International, thousands of people signed petitions for Kokabee’s release. Berk said this publicity could already be helping Kokabee, as the Iranian Supreme Court has made a ruling declaring Kokabee will get another trial.

“Very recently, the Iranian Supreme Court ruled that Omid’s conviction should be vacated because the procedures were not correct,” Berk said. “We’re expecting in a month or two he be freed, and they’ll retry him and hopefully release him.”

Berk said the conditions in the prison are very poor, and Kokabee is in need of medical attention.

“Omid is ill because conditions are poor, and he is facing ailments,” Berk said. “He has kidney problems; he had heart palpitations, and he is losing weight. We have asked the Iranian government, while we’re waiting for the retrial, to at least give him a medical  furlough, so he can be treated of these diseases.”

Berk said the Iranian government poached Kokabee in an effort to get him to contribute to the country’s military research. 

“He chose to be in jail rather than do something that he feels is harmful to humanity,” Berk said. “And that is a very scientific, responsible thing to do.”

Before being imprisoned in 2011, Kokabee studied photonics and laser optics at the University.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein declined to comment on the award and petition.

A group of demonstrators gathered Wednesday on the RLM bridge to raise awareness for Omid Kokabee, a former UT physics graduate student who has been imprisoned in Iran for almost four years.

The group gathered in the shade of the building Kokabee would have returned to for class after visiting his family in Iran. Physics professor Herbert Berk spoke at the demonstration about the circumstances of Kokabee’s incarceration.

“It’s hard to understand what it was, and there was no trial to really shed any light because, at the trial, the judge looked at him and declared him guilty and put him in jail for 10 years,” Berk said.

Berk serves as chairman for the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists, an organization that fights for imprisoned scientists. He said the reasons for Kokabee’s imprisonment are unusual.

“He was declared innocent of some of the [original] charges, but then they convicted him of conspiring with the United States government and getting illegal income, which is, as far as we can tell, the income from being a TA here,” Berk said.

Berk said Kokabee has lost weight and has come down with different medical afflictions while in the Iranian prison system.

“Omid is under some very bad conditions, and, in fact, he’s been ill for a while,” Berk said. “He has several different things, like heart palpitations, and he has trouble with kidney stones that periodically come, in part, because of the poor water that’s there.”

Throughout the world, Nobel laureates have written petitions asking that Kokabee be set free. Berk said petitions collected by Amnesty International will be delivered to the Iranian representative at the United Nations assembly in a couple of weeks.

Ellen Hutchison, a former UT student and acquaintance of Kokabee, said that the demonstration is a powerful way to spread the message and encourage others to speak out.

“Public awareness really does help the situation of political prisoners. Anything [the public] can do to increase awareness would be helpful,” Hutchison said. “This makes a statement not only about Omid, but about the freedom of scientists to study what they believe is beneficial to society.”

At the demonstration, white doves were released from the bridge that had been trained to fly out and return to their home. Rebecca Bratton, the business owner that provided the doves, said that the doves represent what everyone hopes for Kokabee.

“White doves represent peace, hope, love and faith, which is very fitting this occasion because it’s what it’s going to take to get Omid back where he needs to be,”
Bratton said. “Once the birds are set free, they return to their home, which is what we want for Omid.”

At 12 p.m. CST, freeomid.org is planning a "Twitter storm" to alert people to the situation of Omid Kokabee, a former UT physics graduate student who is imprisoned in Iran.

Kokabee was arrested and imprisoned in Iran in 2011 on charges on conspiracy. He was charged with "allegedly conspiring with enemies of Iran and receiving illegitimate funds.” He has since been sentenced to a 10-year term, and has lost multiple appeals. In multiple letters from prison, Kokabee has insisted on his innocence. Advocates from the international academic community claim Kokabee was wrongly accused and given an unfair trial.

Last summer, UT President William Powers Jr. attempted to gain permission to release a statement supporting Kokabee. However, he was unable to do so because according to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroara only the board president or UT System chancellor may comment on “matters of a political or obviously controversial nature, which represent an official position of the UT System or any institution or department thereof.”

The Twitter storm begins at 1 p.m. 

Follow Bobby Blanchard on Twitter @bobbycblanchard.

Omid Kokabee, a former UT grad student currently imprisoned in Iran, said in a public letter he has been “persecuted for refusing to cooperate with Iranian military projects,” the Nature International Weekly Journal of Science reported last week.

Kokabee, who transferred from the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Spain to UT as a laser physics Ph.D. candidate in 2010, wrote in a letter dated March 2013 that he has refused all petitions to collaborate with the Iranian military before and during his ongoing detention.

“Since 2005, I have been invited several times to work as a scientist and technical manager for military and intelligence projects,” Kokabee wrote.

Kokabee also said he was asked in 2006 to develop a powerful carbon dioxide laser for isotope separation, which can be used to enrich uranium.

In the public letter, Kokabee says the Iranian military’s invitations often came with lucrative offers. He was offered a full scholarship funded by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to enroll in doctoral programs.

The coercion on behalf of Iranian officials continued while he was imprisoned, Kokabee wrote. While in prison, Kokabee received a visit from an alleged representative of Iran’s National Elites Foundation, an organization designed to support talented Iranians. He also reported government representatives visited his family in his hometown of Gonbad-e Qabus. Kokabee said he has been offered release from prison in exchange for cooperation in several of these instances.

Iranian authorities arrested Kokabee on Jan. 30, 2011 inside a Tehran airport. On May 13, 2012, Kokabee was sentenced to 10 years in prison for cooperating with a hostile government.

In the letter, Kokabee maintains his innocence and says many transgressions have impeded the progress of his trial, detention and interrogation.

According to the Nature International Weekly Journal of Science, there are several scientific organizations in the US that have openly supported Kokabee in his struggle and are petitioning for his right to a fair trial.

Printed on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 as: Iran prisoner details arrest

Omid Kokabee, former UT doctorate student, is currently serving a 10-year sentence at Evin Prison in Iran. Former Evin prisoner Dr. Kamiar Alaei recalls his time at the prison (Photo courtesy of the Kokabee family).

A past inmate of the Iranian prison where former doctorate student Omid Kokabee is serving a 10-year sentence sat down with The Daily Texan to explain what life in the prison is like. 

Dr. Kamiar Alaei, who served more than two years as a political prisoner, said that alongside a lack of safety, space and basic human rights, poor health care is a major problem at Evin Prison in Iran, located in Evin, a northwestern section of Tehran. Alaei said Kokabee faces the dangers normally associated with U.S. prisons, including violence, sexual assault and theft, in addition to these conditions.

Alaei said most prisoners have access to basic health care, but because Kokabee is a political prisoner, he faces harsher conditions. Though a prison doctor recently diagnosed Kokabee with kidney stones, he hasn’t received the inpatient care the doctor recommended and has lost six kilograms, roughly 13.2 pounds, as a result.

Alaei, an HIV/AIDS researcher, served time in solitary confinement and a special unit for political prisoners while he was at Evin prison. Kokabee began his sentence in solitary confinement and was then transferred to the same special unit, where he is currently jailed.

Alaei described his time in solitary confinement. 

“The solitary is six-feet-by-four-feet,” Alaei said. “There is light 24 hours a day, limited access to restrooms and no access to fresh air. You are blindfolded with no access to an attorney, no access to family visits and you are under interrogation for hours and days and weeks.”

He said inmates in solitary confinement must follow a special procedure when they want to use the restroom.

“There was a piece of paper that they gave to us, that we could throw out,” Alaei said. “If by any chance the prison staff passed by, which might not have been for several hours, they would see that and we could go to the restroom.”

Alaei said inmates in the political prisoner unit wake up at 6 a.m. each day, go outside to the jail yard and stay there until 10 p.m. when they go to sleep. He said the prison yard, roughly 3,600 square feet, holds roughly 200 people.

Alaei also said the cells each contain roughly 30 prisoners but only 15 beds.

Kokabee has been jailed in Iran since he was arrested in February 2011 while visiting family. Charged with conspiring with foreign countries in plots against the Iranian government, Kokabee was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Recently, he was sentenced to an additional 91 days without trial for earning illegal money after other inmates paid him to teach them English, Spanish, French and physics.

Alaei said Kokabee has only been able to visit face-to-face with his family once since he was imprisoned, and he is not able to safely complain about the situation.

“At anytime, for no reason, they may send [prisoners] back to solitary, if they just complain, if they just say, ‘Well I want to meet with my family,’” Alaei said.

He said execution is another possibility for prisoners at Evin. According to Amnesty International’s 2011 report on human rights, Iran is second to China in total number of executions. 

Alaei said Kokabee’s best chance at freedom is for the international community to pressure the Iranian government. Alaei and his brother Dr. Arash Alaei were both sentenced to prison terms in Iran in 2008 but were released after international academic institutions pressured the Iranian government.

The Alaei brothers are planning an international day of protest to advocate for justice for Kokabee to supplement physics professor Herbert Berk’s petition to the Iranian government for a fair retrail for Kokabee. Thus far, the petition has gained 590 signatures.

UT has not taken an official stance on Kokabee’s situation.

To access the petition asking the Iranian government to give Omid Kokabee a fair retrial go to: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/fair-retrial-for-omid-kokabee/signatures.html.

Printed on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 as: Past inmate uses story to rally support, awareness

Former Iranian political prisoners Drs. Kamiar and Arash Alaei expressed the need to support post doctorate student Omid Kokabee by signing a petition for a fair trial. Kamiar also talked about their prison experiences and Arash talked about meeting Kokabee in prison.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

As the health of a former UT doctorate student jailed in Iran since February 2011 deteriorates, an international day of protest is being planned in his honor.

Dr. Arash Alaei and Dr. Kamiar Alaei, two Iranian HIV/AIDS researchers who were recently released from the same prison where Omid Kokabee has been in jail for almost two years on a 10-year sentence, spoke on campus Wednesday night. The brothers said the best way to advocate for Kokabee is to put international pressure on the Iranian government, as it has responded to pressure in the past. They said they are working with representatives of Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy organization, to plan the protest demanding justice for Kokabee and others treated unjustly by the Iranian government.

The Alaeis said they were jailed and sentenced to prison terms in Iran in 2008 for their work regarding HIV/AIDS research, a controversial topic in Iran.

Following international pressure from more than a dozen academic organizations, both were released within three years, before their sentences expired.

Kamiar Alaei said Kokabee’s condition has recently been deteriorating, as he does not have adequate access to medical care in the Iranian prison. He said Kokabee recently received a diagnosis of kidney stones by a prison doctor and was told he needed inpatient care, but the Iranian government has prevented Kokabee from getting it.

Arash Alaei said Kokabee recently lost six kilograms, roughly 13.2 pounds, as a result of his condition.

The brothers spoke at an event titled “From UT to Evin Prison: Case of Omid Kokabee Discussed,” hosted by the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, APS Physics and Amnesty International. It focused on the political situation in Iran and Kokabee’s current plight.

Kamiar Alaei said he wants Kokabee to become “a voice of the voiceless and a face of the faceless.”

The brothers said people in Iran are often treated unjustly because the government does not agree with their work. They said groups targeted include politically active women, attorneys and students. They did not know what was controversial about Kokabee’s work and said the arrests can often seem arbitrary.

“They encourage some doctorate students to go abroad, and the next day they arrest some of them,” Kamiar Alaei said.

Kokabee was arrested in Iran in February 2011 while he was visiting family. He was charged with conspiring with foreign countries in plots against the Iranian government and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Following his original arrest, protests broke out around the world, but the Iranian government has not reduced or dismissed Kokabee’s charges.

Kokabee lost his final appeal of the charges in August and recently received an additional 90-day sentence for teaching other prisoners English, French, Spanish and physics, his attorney, Saeed Khalili, said.

Kokabee was convicted of the original charges in a rapid trial with more than 10 other individuals, according to a petition created by UT physics professor Herbert Berk asking the Iranian government to give Kokabee a fair trial. The petition also said he did not have access to a lawyer and was given little to no time to defend himself in court.

Berk’s petition has received 518 signatures so far, and he plans to submit it to the Iranian government in roughly two weeks.

To access the petition asking the Iranina government to give Omid Kokabee a fair retrial go to: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/fair-retrial-for-omid-kokabee/signatures.html

A new charge has been filed against Omid Kokabee, a former UT physics doctorate student who was jailed in Iran last year, this time for teaching other inmates.

According to Kokabee’s attorney, Saeed Khalili, the Iranian government has added an additional 91 days to Kokabee’s original 10-year sentence for earning illegal money after Kokabee was paid by other inmates to teach them English, Spanish, French and physics.

Kokabee was originally arrested in Iran in February 2011 while he was visiting family. He was charged with conspiring with foreign countries in plots against the Iranian government and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Following his arrest, international protest ensued over the charges and subsequent trial process.

According to a petition created by UT physics professor Herbert Berk asking the Iranian government to give Kokabee a fair trial, Kokabee was convicted of the original charges in a rapid trial with more than 10 other individuals. The petition also said he did not have access to a lawyer, and was given little to no time to defend himself in court.

Kokabee has denied all charges against him and lost his final appeal against the original charges in August.

Berk is a member of the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists of the American Physical Society, an organization which works to protect the rights of scientists. He has been acting with other members of the organization in support of Kokabee.

Berk’s petition for Kokabee, which started in June, has gained 474 signatures. Berk said he plans to send the petition to the Iranian government in about two weeks.

Along with representatives from other organizations including American Association for the Advancement of Science, APS Physics and Amnesty International, Berk has scheduled an event titled “From UT to Evin Prison: Case of Omid Kokabee discussed” for Wednesday in the Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences Building in room 2.302 at 7:30 p.m.

The event will feature Dr. Arash Alaei and his brother Dr. Kamiar Alaei. Both are HIV and AIDS researchers who were recently released from the same prison Kokabee is in now. Arash Alaei said he got to know Kokabee while in prison.

The brothers were released by the Iranian government after international protest over their imprisonment grew. Berk said at this point, public pressure is one of Kokabee’s best options for justice, as he has lost his final appeal and such pressure has worked to free other prisoners in the past.

The Alaeis plan to share their experiences at the event and discuss the political situation in Iran.

Berk said the Iranian government has shown a pattern of unfair persecution of scientists whose work they fear may negatively affect their government, sometimes filing charges that seem random and unfounded.

Berk said he hopes the event will urge the UT community to show increased support for Kokabee.

While other U.S. universities have made statements in support of Kokabee, including the State University of New York-Albany School of Public Health and the Ohio State University’s School of Public Health, UT has not taken an official stance on Kokabee’s situation.

UT President William Powers Jr. attempted to gain permission to release a statement advocating for Kokabee this past summer but was prohibited by

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who cited a rule that only the board president or UT System chancellor may comment on “matters of a political or obviously controversial nature, which represent an official position of the UT System or any institution or department thereof.”

Cigarroa said he does not feel it is appropriate for the University to take an official stance on Kokabee’s situation, but he suggested members of the public work with human rights organizations to advocate for Kokabee.

Printed on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 as: Professor petitions in support of Kokabee

To access the petition asking the Iranina government to give Omid Kokabee a fair retrial go to: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/fair-retrial-for-omid-kokabee/signatures.html

As a former UT doctoral student remains jailed in Iran, UT administrators continue to refuse to take an official stance on his imprisonment.

Omid Kokabee, a former UT physics doctoral student who was arrested in Iran while visiting family in February of 2011, lost his final appeal in Iranian court last month. He had been brought up on charges of conspiring with foreign countries in plots against the Iranian government and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In a statement released Tuesday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said his decision not to release an official statement in Kokabee’s defense still stands, but he does urge community members to pursue support for Kokabee elsewhere.

Kokabee has continually denied all charges against him

Herbert Berk, UT physics professor and member of the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists of the American Physical Society, said now that Kokabee has lost his final appeal, the most plausible way to bring about justice for him would be a mass showing of support to put pressure on the Iranian government to treat him fairly.

“It just has to come from international pressure,” Berk said.

Berk began an online petition in June urging the Iranian government to review Kokabee’s case fairly, a measure he hoped would lead to his release. The petition has 323 signatures so far.

Berk said it is still unclear why the Iranian government has targeted Kokabee

Widespread belief that Kokabee was wrongly accused of those charges and faced an unfair trial has led to an international campaign to bring him justice.

Advocates for Kokabee’s freedom include several highly-respected academic entities, including University of Oslo, American Society for Photobiology and the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists of the American Physical Society.

Berk’s petition cites some of the factors he believes led to an unfair trial for Kokabee

“We find it very difficult to believe the charges he has been convicted of, charges which he has denied under intense pressure. His conviction occurred after a rapid hearing that convicted more than 10 individuals, with little time to present a cogent defense,” the petition read.

In response to Kokabee’s plight, UT President William Powers, Jr. attempted to gain permission to release a statement advocating for Kokabee this past summer but was prohibited by the UT System Board of Regents. Cigarroa cited a rule that only the board president or UT System chancellor may comment on “matters of a political or obviously controversial nature, which represent an official position of the UT System or any institution or department thereof.”

Cigarroa then said he did not feel it appropriate for the UT System to take a position in Kokabee’s defense

“We have great sympathy for the plight of Omid Kokabee,” Cigarroa said in July. “As I mentioned in a July 3 letter to President Powers, we are personally sympathetic, but believe it is not a matter upon which it is appropriate for the UT System to take an official position. I also suggested reaching out to human rights organizations, including the National Academies’ Committee on Human Rights in an effort to seek assistance in promoting the petition led by physics professor Herbert Berk to release Mr. Kokabee.”

Berk said he feels the University is capable of releasing such a statement, and he sees their refusal as a major roadblock for Kokabee.

“There is a limit to what [the Committee on International Freedom] can do, and we have done a lot. But it would be good to get the support of the major institutions in our country, and UT is one of them,” Berk said. “Not getting the support in this particular case is very disappointing. It hurts our attempts.”

Berk said there have been multiple cases of academics being unjustly jailed in Iran who were subsequently released as a result of public pressure

Dr. Arash Alaei is one of those cases.

Alaei, an HIV and AIDS researcher, was imprisoned by the Iranian government from 2008 to 2011, during which time he was jailed with Kokabee for several months. Alaei was accused of conspiring to overthrow the Iranian government and sentenced to a six-year prison term. With international support from academic Alaei said that kind of support is what Kokabee desperately needs at this time.

“I think the best approach would be to involve the media and campaign for him,” Alaei said.

Alaei said the Iranian government has jailed several people without any reason in recent years, and it is commonplace in Iran for prisoners to be denied basic legal rights such as adequate access to their attorney.

In Alaei’s case, support for him in the U.S. included the dean of Harvard University’s School of Public Health, the State University of New York-Albany School of Public Health and the Ohio State University’s School of Public Health. Ohio State University is one of UT’s 11 peer institutions.

Earlier this month, the UT Board of Regents denied President Bill Powers Jr.’s request to make an official statement about Iran’s imprisonment of Omid Kokabee, a UT physics graduate student. The Regents cited a rule in the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Regents that prohibits university personnel from making official statements on behalf of the university that relate to political or controversial issues.

A bright, promising physics student — who was recognized as such by both Iranian and U.S. scientists — Kokabee was arrested and detained in his native Iran in February 2011. After a brief trial, during which the prosecution presented few facts, an Iranian court sentenced Kokabee to 10 years imprisonment for “communicating with a hostile government” and “illegal earnings.”

Kokabee, who completed his undergraduate education in Iran, came to UT in the fall of 2010 to earn a doctoral degree in quantum optics. During his first winter break, Kokabee went to Tehran to visit his family. Iranian authorities arrested him at the airport before he boarded his return flight to America. Kokabee was taken to Evin Prison, in northwestern Iran, where he was put in solitary confinement. During his May 2012 trial, Iranian state-controlled television broadcast eerie footage of Kokabee’s fellow prisoners thanking the Iranian government for arresting them and begging for clemency. Kokabee denied all charges against him.

Worldwide, members of the science community have denounced Kokabee’s arrest and the punishment levied against him. After Kokabee’s trial, the Rector of the University of Oslo, Ole Petter Otterson, sent an open letter to the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking that Kokabee receive a fair trial.

But at UT, the only official response to Kokabee’s unjust circumstances has been silence.

In late June, President Powers attempted to change that. Powers wrote to the Board of Regents, seeking a waiver to the rule that prevents him from speaking out about political or controversial issues in his capacity as university president.

In response, Chancellor of the Board Francisco Cigarroa denied Powers’ request, writing that only the board president or UT system chancellor may comment upon “matters of a political or obviously controversial nature, which represent an official position of the UT system or any institution or department thereof.” The underlying logic of the rule: If other university personnel — Powers ­— take formal, public positions of a political nature, their view may be confused as being the official position of the public institution, according to Anthony de Bruyn, a UT System spokesman. Cigarroa encouraged Powers to reach out to human rights groups on his own. The rule cited by Cigarroa would allow Powers to do this so long as he did not claim to do so in his capacity as president of UT.

With the trial and imprisonment of Omid Kokabee, a physicist’s career and a fellow student’s life has been arbitrarily torn asunder. What makes sense about an official at a university in Oslo being more liberated to speak up against the injustice of Kokabee’s circumstances than the president of Kokabee’s own university? Is the Board of Regents’ rule-following really a nose-thumbing gesture directed at President Powers, who has sparred with the board about separate issues in recent months?

If yes, the Board of Regents has played a card that reflects poorly on it and UT. By effectively silencing UT’s institutional voice about Kokabee, the Board of Regents allows the school to join the side of Kokabee’s captors, courtroom judge and those dominant in the Iranian government who favor silencing political discourse and individual rights.

Historically, university presidents exercising their First Amendment rights have injected more intelligence into all sorts of debates and by doing so, raised the profile of their schools. Nicholas Butler, who served as president of Columbia University in New York from 1902 to 1945, advised American presidents, campaigned for Prohibition, played a significant role in Republican politics and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign against war as an appropriate, diplomatic action. Before he became U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, as president of Princeton University between 1902 and 1910, fought what he thought was a culture of elitism and smallness at the school, and sought to enlarge students’ worldview at the same time as he enlarged the university.

Closer to home, UT had its own champion of the bully pulpit: former university president Homer Price Rainey, who raised his voice for academic freedom.

But the conclusion of Rainey’s tenure left our school with a problematic legacy. In 1944, Rainey defended an English professor’s right to teach John Dos Passos’ novel “USA.” The Board of Regents responded to his outspokenness by firing Rainey. Subsequently, Rainey received national credit for his courage and, according to the UT Faculty Council’s website, became “a symbol for academic freedom on the campus in the decades that followed.” The episode marked UT as a school governed by an intolerant board.

In 2012, times have changed. Nationwide, few university presidents, in between their fundraising obligations, enter political debates with gusto. But nonetheless the Board of Regents should take lessons from its own history and remember that freedom of former university professors to add their voice to the national and international dialogue speaks to everything worth defending in this country and absent in Iran.

UT physics graduate student Omid Kokabee  plead not guilty to communicating with a hostile government and receiving illegitimate funds Tuesday at his trial in Iran. Reports relayed to Eugene Chudnovsky, physics professor and member of the American Physics Society, predicted a grim outlook for his trial.

“The lawyer said that he was not very optimistic because the punishments handed down in court today were quite harsh,” Chudnovsky said.

Kokabee was not permitted to defend himself in court other than by written statement.

“According to an email from his lawyer, Kokabee was not even allowed to speak in court,” Chudnovsky said. “He was only allowed to submit answers in writing. After all these months he has not been allowed to talk to his lawyer.”

Chudnovsky said this was the first case of a student being detained for obtaining a United States visa.

“They do have a history of detaining scientists,” Chudnovsky said. “This is the first time a student visa has been considered as associating with a hostile government however. There are many Iranian students who are exactly in the same situation and are scared.”

John Keto, director of the UT physics graduate program said Kokabee’s Iranian classmates now fear going home to Iran.

“Most are now concerned about travel back to Iran, even for a visit,” Keto said.

People in the physics department are working delicately with scientific organizations to help advocate for Kokabee’s release.

“A serious outcry from the US may have been interpreted by the Iranian courts as interference  and evidence confirming the allegations of Omid’s working with the US government.” Keto said.  “This was why for the first four months Omid’s family requested that we keep our knowledge of the situation confidential.”