Petition calls for release of UT student imprisoned in Iran

Josh Willis

With thousands of people having signed a petition asking for the release of Omid Kokabee from a prison in Iran, he was recently granted a retrial from the Iranian judicial system. 

Kokabee, a former UT physics graduate student, has been imprisoned in his home country of Iran since 2011. The petition was turned into the Iranian Mission at the United Nations in New York City on Tuesday, according to Amnesty International. 

Physics professor Herbert Berk said the petition, signed by 31 Physics Nobel Laureates, could help get Kokabee released from prison.  

“Historically, if people are interested in people in jail, it usually makes a difference to make a statement,” said Berk, who also serves as chairman for the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists. “It should make a difference.”

According to Amnesty International, thousands of people signed petitions for Kokabee’s release. Berk said this publicity could already be helping Kokabee, as the Iranian Supreme Court has made a ruling declaring Kokabee will get another trial.

“Very recently, the Iranian Supreme Court ruled that Omid’s conviction should be vacated because the procedures were not correct,” Berk said. “We’re expecting in a month or two he be freed, and they’ll retry him and hopefully release him.”

Berk said the conditions in the prison are very poor, and Kokabee is in need of medical attention.

“Omid is ill because conditions are poor, and he is facing ailments,” Berk said. “He has kidney problems; he had heart palpitations, and he is losing weight. We have asked the Iranian government, while we’re waiting for the retrial, to at least give him a medical  furlough, so he can be treated of these diseases.”

Berk said the Iranian government poached Kokabee in an effort to get him to contribute to the country’s military research. 

“He chose to be in jail rather than do something that he feels is harmful to humanity,” Berk said. “And that is a very scientific, responsible thing to do.”

Before being imprisoned in 2011, Kokabee studied photonics and laser optics at the University.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein declined to comment on the award and petition.