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Omid Kokabee accepts AAAS award from prison

24 February 2015

photo of Omid KokabeeAn acceptance speech written by University of Texas at Austin graduate student Omid Kokabee from prison was delivered at the award ceremony for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2014 Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award on 13 February. Kokabee is imprisoned at Evin Prison in Iran for refusing to contribute to weapons research in his home country. 

As the first doctoral student to win the award, Kokabee, an SPIE student member, was honored by AAAS "for his courageous stand and willingness to endure imprisonment rather than violate his moral stance that his scientific expertise not be used for destructive purposes and for his efforts to provide hope and education to fellow prisoners."

In Kokabee's speech, delivered by University of Texas at Austin professor Her Berk, Kokabee wrote it has been "a painful shock to be incarcerated for a long period, without any legal justification, against my home country's national interests and in violation of international human rights' principles."

In 2005, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran became interested in Kokabee's doctoral work and requested his help developing a carbon dioxide laser use for isotope separation. The organization offered Kokabee a full scholarship for his doctoral program in exchange for his assistance with military and intelligence projects. 

"I was only a scientific researcher," Kokabee said in expressing his innocence in his speech. "I was not involved in any political activities or held any political views."

Kokabee declined several requests to help with Iranian research related to weapons and development.While visiting his family in Tehran he was arrested at the Tehran airport and held in solitary confinement for over a month in 2011. The arrest lead to 15 months of pre-trial detention and Kokabee was convicted of espionage and receiving illegitimate fund from Iran's enemies. His 10-year sentence was upheld by the Tehran Court of Appeals.

From prison, Kokabee has continued to write papers and submit abstracts to professional meetings. He has taught his fellow prison mates a "physics for all" class, which explains the basic principles of physics.

Kokabee suffers from kidney disease, asthma, and heart palpitations. He has been denied medical care outside of the prison despite his repeated requests. This year 161 doctoral students from around the globe released an open letter demanding medical attention and due process for him. Finally, the Iranian Supreme Court granted Kokabee a retrial in October, after 18 Nobel laureates wrote a letter to the supreme leader of Iran calling for Kokabee's immediate release.

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