Iranian imprisonment to be discussed after Omid Kokabee sentenced for additional charge

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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