After charges of leaking secrets, student remain in Iranian jail

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UT physics graduate student Omid Kokabee remains imprisoned indefinitely in Iran despite pleading not guilty to espionage charges in an Iranian court.

Kokabee was imprisoned while on a visit to his native country Iran in Jan. 2011 under charges of leaking Iranian nuclear secrets to the United States. He pled not guilty to the charges on Oct. 4, 2011.

Kokabee was not allowed to testify on his own behalf and was only allowed to exchange written messages with the judge, said Eugene Chudnovsky, a physics professor at Herbert H. Lehman College. He said the Iranian government sent him back to prison and asked his defense to build a better case while awaiting a new hearing that could come at any time.

“My assumption is that they are pressing him really hard to get some admission of guilt,” Chudnovsky said. “They are trying to build a better case and no one knows how long it is going to take.”

Chudnovsky said he writes to those in contact with Kokabee every two weeks for updated information on his case, but it is a tedious process because he does not want to bring any negative attention to Kokabee during this time.

“The people who have a connection with Kokabee do not want to be identified because they are afraid something bad might happen,” Chudnovsky said.

Physics junior John Beoris said Omid’s situation is extremely complicated because many people are misinformed about the work that physicists do and the language barrier makes communicating his innocence difficult.

“Physicists are always at risk of knowing information that is considered sensitive,” Beoris said. “But [Kokabee] worked in optics and most of that research has no practical application. It is usually used to develop things later on. I don’t believe anything he was doing is potentially threatening.”