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Lasers & Sources

Op-ed appeals for release of SPIE member Kokabee, asks for high-level help

SPIE Newsroom
4 November 2015

Omid Kokabee, SPIE Member imprisoned in Iran

The case of SPIE member Omid Kokabee, imprisoned in Iran since February 2011, was highlighted by a recent opinion article in the Washington Post.

The article's author is Herbert L. Berk, professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the American Physical Society's Committee on International Freedom of Scientists. The article, published on 30 October, is an effort to keep the case in the public eye and enlist the support of diplomats engaged with Iran.

"Kokabee desperately needs wider recognition and support from the general public and government officials at the highest level," Berk writes in the article. The APS committee Berk chairs has called on Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama, along with their counterparts in the partner-nations of the nuclear weapons treaty with Iran, to press Iran for Kokabee's release.

Kokabee was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly conspiring with foreign countries against Iran. He had been charged with communicating with a hostile government and receiving illegal earnings. He was granted a new trial by Iran's supreme court in October 2014, but a few months later, the Tehran Appeals Court upheld the sentence again.

In September 2014, 18 Physics Nobel laureates signed an open letter addressed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, calling for Kokabee's release.

While in prison, Kokabee was awarded the 2013 Andrei Sakharov Prize by the American Physical Society for "his courage in refusing to use his physics knowledge to work on projects that he deemed harmful to humanity, in the face of extreme physical and psychological pressure." In 2014, the American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded him its 2014 Freedom and Responsibility Award. Kokabee sent an acceptance speech, which was delivered by Berk at the awards ceremony.

"Scientists are responsible for their work and its impact on society and the future of humanity, just as a mother protects her child and feels responsible in raising her properly," Kokabee wrote. "Scientists have a responsibility to refuse cooperation in any project which is harmful to society."