|Born||1982 (age 31–32)
Gonbad-e Qabus, Iran
|Awards||Andrei Sakharov Prize (APS) in 2014, American Physical Society|
Omid Kokabee (Persian: امید کوکبی; born 1982) is an Iranian experimental laser physicist at the University of Texas at Austin who was arrested in Iran after returning from the United States to visit his family in January 30, 2011. He was initially charged with "gathering and colluding against national security" but later after being acquitted from the primary charges, he was trialed for “communicating with a hostile government (USA)” and “illegitimate/illegal earnings”.  Even though he repeatedly denied all charges against himself, he was finally sentenced to ten years in prison.
In September 2013, the American Physical Society announced Kokabee as a co-recipient of its 2014 Andrei Sakharov Prize (APS) for "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".
In November 2013, Amnesty International released a public statement declaring Kokabee a "prisoner of conscience, held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholarly ties with academic institutions outside of Iran." In that statement Amnesty asked for "his immediate and unconditional release".
Life and education
Kokabee is from Iran's mostly Sunni Muslim Turkmen ethnic group. He was ranked 29th in the Iranian university entrance exam, which is held annually with more than one million participants. He entered Sharif University of Technology in 2000 and completed a double major undergraduate program in Applied Physics and Mechanical Engineering. In 2007, he went to Spain to obtain his Master's degree in Photonics at Polytechnic University of Catalonia and his PhD at the Institute of Photonic Sciences, ICFO, in Barcelona. Omid started his second PhD at the University of Texas at Austin in 2010. He has published more than twenty collaborative papers including seven journal publications, among which lies his publications in Optics Letters.
Arrest and imprisonment
During winter break in 2011, Kokabee traveled to Iran to visit with his family. He was arrested at Imam Khomeini International Airport on his return trip to United States in February 2011, and was subjected to solitary confinement for 36 days after his arrest. In an open letter, Kokabee claimed that the authorities were trying to obtain his collaboration for the Iranian nuclear program by threatening him and his family.
After 15 months of detention without trial and postponement of two trials in July and October 2011, Kokabee went on trial in Tehran on May 13, 2012. According to his lawyer, Saeed Khalili, Kokabee was charged with having relations with a hostile country and receiving illegitimate funds. Kokabee attended trial before judge Abolghasem Salavati with a group of 10 to 15 people in the same session, under the collective charge of collaborating with Israeli authorities. While other prisoners declared themselves guilty in a TV broadcast, Kokabee consistently denied all charges and did not speak in court. He was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. The sentence was confirmed in an appeal trial on August 19, 2012.
Several physics associations, including the American Physical Society, the International Optics Society SPIE, the Optical Society of America, and the European Optical Society, have lodged protests against his imprisonment. The open letters to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, note that Kokabee was not politically active and was not associated with any political movement in Iran. However, he is an expert in laser technology, and as indicated in a Nature news article, this expertise may have led to an attempt to intimidate him to work for the Iranian nuclear program, in the area of laser isotope separation.
Since 2007, a number of U.S.-Iranian dual nationals or Americans of Iranian ancestry have faced arrest, imprisonment or criminal charges when visiting Iran (examples being Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima, Roxana Saberi, Ali Shakeri, Esha Momeni, Haleh Esfandiari, and Kian Tajbakhsh).
Omid said:
Is it a sin that I don’t want, under any circumstances, to get involved in security and military activities? ... I have just turned 30 years old after spending two years in prison, when I am eager to pursue scientific research.
Nature received copies of the letters from Kokabee’s contacts, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of retribution.
In the public letter, addressed to Ali Sharifi, whom Kokabee describes as his former roommate at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Kokabee says that he was asked to collaborate with the military before and during his detention, but always refused. The letter is dated March 2013 and is marked as having been written from section 350 of Evin prison in Tehran, which houses those accused of political and security crimes. (See Nature's English translation of Kokabee's letter from the original Persian).
Activism and recognition
In July 2013, a meeting took place in Barcelona (where Kokabee obtained his Master's Degree) entitled "Knowledge in jail: Why are there hundreds of scientists in the prisons of the world?" The discussion was organized by the Science and Technology section of the Ateneu Barcelonès. Kokabee's case received special attention. SPIE Past President María Yzuel of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona decried situations wherein scientists and researchers are controlled in their academic years, recalling memories of colleagues who were monitored or controlled by the Franco government.
On September 23, 2013, the American Physical Society, the principal professional society of United States physicists, announced that Kokabee has been selected as a co-recipient of its 2014 Andrei Sakharov Prize, which recognizes outstanding leadership of scientists upholding human rights. He was cited for "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".
On November 16, 2013, Amnesty International sponsored an event in Washington, DC entitled "Iran: Silencing Scientists and Squelching Scholarship." The panel discussion was billed as a dialogue on how to address the issue of repression of academic freedom in Iran; featuring the case of Omid Kokabee. On November 19, 2013, Amnesty International released a public statement declaring Kokabee a "prisoner of conscience, held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholarly ties with academic institutions outside of Iran." With that statement, Amnesty launched a campaign calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
- Shuster, Mike (7 October 2011). "Iran Charges Student Who Was In the U.S.". NPR.
- UT student faces espionage charges By Samian Quazi| dailytexanonline.com| 3 October 2011
- Maly, David (January 8, 2013). "UT student Omid Kokabee gains more international support amid prison sentence". The Daily Texan. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- "Andrei Sakharov Prize (APS) 2014". American Physical Society.
- Catanzaro, Michele; Eugenie Samuel Reich (16 May 2011). "Missing physicist may have been jailed in Iran". Nature. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- Lucibella, Michael (October 2011). "Imprisoned APS Member Faces Harsh Treatment and Charges in Iran". Journal of American Physical Society 20 (9). American Physical Society. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- Catanzaro, Michele (15 May 2012). "Iranian physicist sentenced to prison". Nature. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- "Iran puts University of Texas student on trial". Associated Press, USA Today. 4 October 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- Catanzaro, Michele (26 April 2013). "Iranian says he was jailed for refusing to engage in military research". Nature. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
- Powers, Ashley; Yvonne Villarreal (May 26, 2007). "Popular businessman linked to UC Irvine is missing in Iran". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- A youtube video of Omid's situation, interviewing his professors.
- Omid Kokabee homepage at the University of Texas at Austin
- Kokabee's most recent publication in Optic Letters.
- One international organization: International Commission for Optics (ICO) signed with OSA, SPIE and EOS the petition letter on August 2011
- Open letters by Omid Kokabee