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Scientists voice support for student to mark two years of his jailing in Iran

Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.

Scientists and students at the University of Texas (UT) in Austin released a short documentary about Omid Kokabee, a doctoral student at that university, on 30 January to mark his second year of detention in Iran on a controversial conspiracy sentence (see video below).

The group also issued an online petition asking the university to allow the physics department to make an official statement on the case.

Kokabee (pictured) transferred to UT Austin in the autumn of 2010 to complete his PhD after three years at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, Spain.

On 30 January 2011, at the end of a holiday in his native Iran, he was arrested at Tehran’s airport. In May 2012 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for “illegal earnings” and “communication with an hostile government”. Kokabee denied all accusations and alleged irregularities in his trial in two open letters.

Scientific organizations such as the American Physical Society, four professional optics societies and the Committee of Concerned Scientists based in New York, among others, have issued letters and petitions in support of Kokabee  (see ‘Scientists protest against prison sentence for Iranian student‘).

However, neither UT Austin nor the Technical University of Catalonia (of which the ICFO is part) have made any official statements on the case. Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT system, said that an internal regulation forbids university personnel from making official statements on behalf of the university on matters of political or controversial nature.

“We are trying to get UT involved” through the video and the petitions, says an Iranian-American student member of Austin for Iran, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

The video includes declarations in support of Kokabee from Kamiar and Arash Alaei, two AIDS doctors who were detained in Iran in 2008 and released after an international campaign from the scientific community. In the film, Kamiar Alaei asks the Iranian government to release Kokabee to mark the Iranian new year, in March.

Scientists who support Kokabee have set up other initiatives to mark Kokabee’s second anniversary in jail. On 7 December, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Amnesty International hosted an event in Washington DC at which scientists could sign an open letter backing Kokabee. And on 3 January, the Middle East Studies Association, a think tank based in Tucson, Arizona, issued an open letter asking for Kokabee’s freedom.

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