UT student Omid Kokabee gains more international support amid prison sentence


As a UT student remains jailed in Iran, efforts by academic entities to secure his release continue to grow.

The Middle East Studies Association, an organization of roughly 3,000 academics from around the world, joined the more than a dozen academic organizations asking for justice for Omid Kokabee, a UT physics doctoral student. In a Jan. 3 letter the organization’s Committee on Academic Freedom asked Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for Kokabee’s “immediate release.”

Peter Sluglett, president of the Middle East Studies Association and professor at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, said attention to Kokabee’s situation is the best hope for his release at this time.

“The letters alert the international community (academics, journalists, UT-Austin, etc.) to what is going on,” Sluglett said in an email to The Daily Texan.

Sluglett said the Iranian government grants pardons to prisoners on national holidays, including the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. If enough attention is brought to his case, Kokabee may be granted a pardon or see his sentence reduced. The 34th anniversary of the Iranian revolution will take place on Feb. 11.

The letter is addressed in care of Mohammad Khazaee, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations. Khazaee was not available for comment.

According to the letter, Kokabee was imprisoned while visiting Iran in February 2011. He has since been charged and sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly communicating with a hostile government and receiving illegitimate funds, charges he has repeatedly denied. The letter states that Kokabee was given a rapid trial without access to his attorney.

Saeed Khalili, Kokabee’s attorney, said an additional 91 days were added to his original 10-year sentence in 2012 for earning illegal money after he was paid by other inmates to teach them English, Spanish, French and physics.

Other organizations to support Kokabee include Amnesty International, the State University of New York-Albany School of Public Health and The Ohio State University.

Kamiar Alaei, an HIV/AIDS researcher at the State University of New York at Albany who has been following Kokabee’s case, said Kokabee has recently been diagnosed with kidney stones and has been denied adequate medical care for them.

Kamiar Alaei and his brother Arash Alaei were arrested and jailed in Iran in 2008. Both were released following international protest over their imprisonment. He said the Iranian government has arbitrarily and unjustly imprisoned dozens of academics in recent years out of fear that their work was political.

They are planning an international day of advocacy for Kokabee in February, in light of the two-year anniversary of Kokabee’s imprisonment.

Herbert Berk, UT physics professor and a member of the American Physical Society’s Committee on International Freedom of Scientists, created a petition asking the Iranian government to give Kokabee a fair trial. It has gained 623 signatures. Berk is working with students to create a video to explain Kokabee’s situation. The video will be released later this month.

Published on January 14, 2012 as "Letter ot Iranian leader raises Kokabee awarness".