Scientists show support for imprisoned student in panel discussions

Bobby Blanchard

Panel discussions and events continue to take place in support for Omid Kokabee, the UT physics graduate student who many are saying was unjustly sentenced to ten years in prison in Iran.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology panel discussion took place Thursday to alert the academic community about Kokabee‘s situation. Eugene Chudnovsky, co-chair on the Committee of Concerned Scientists, spoke along with Kamiar and Arash Alaei, two brothers charged in Iran in 2008 for communicating with enemy governments and sentenced to prison. Like Kokabee, the brothers pleaded innocent at their trial.

Chudnovsky said he spoke at the event about what he knew of Kokabee, while the brothers spoke of their experience in Iranian prison.

“People there will spread the word, and they will tell their friends about Kokabee,” Chudnovsky said.

Another event is scheduled at the International Workshop on Nanomagnetism and Superconductivity on July 3 in Coma-Ruga, Spain.

Kokabee was arrested in December 2010 while visiting family in Iran. After being held in prison for 15 months, Kokabee was sentenced to ten years in prison for allegedly conspiring with foreign countries in plots against the Iranian government. Sources close to Kokabee said he was not given the right to a lawyer and his sentencing took only a few minutes.

Chudnovsky said Kokabee was in high spirits despite being imprisoned, in part thanks to the international support he is gaining. Chudnovsky said Kokabee is still studying physics in prison, and he is tutoring other prisoners in subjects like math, physics, French, Spanish and English.

“I think it will help him to manage all the hardship of the time he has to spend in prison,” Chudnovsky said.

Along with these events, petitions on behalf of Kokabee have continued to circulate the web. The petition from the American Physical Society’s Committee on International Freedom of Scientists currently has almost 20 signatures while the Committee of Concerned Scientists’ petition has over 135 signatures.