UT Graduate Student Jailed in Iran Pleads Not Guilty

Omid Kokabee, an Iranian graduate student at UT-Austin, has been imprisoned in Iran since February on espionage charges. He is accused of “communicating with a hostile government.”

According to the journal Science, Kokabee is scheduled to go to trial tomorrow.

The Alcalde learned of Kokabee’s imprisonment in June, and chose not to write about it at the request of his family, who feared for their and Omid’s safety.

“We [are] under pressure to be quiet,” said one of his family members, who asked to remain anonymous, in an email. Family and friends feared that American media attention would suggest a political relationship between Kokabee and the U.S., the family member said.

At the end of last fall term, Kokabee traveled home to Iran for winter break and never returned. The University found out later he had been arrested.

“The charge in Iran of ‘communicating with a hostile government’ obviously has all other Iranian students wondering if they can ever risk even a visit home,” said UT physics professor John Keto in a June email.

Keto also said that Kokabee had not yet begun research or chosen an advisor at UT. His area of research, optics, was not related to nuclear technology, and should not have led to his arrest, said Keto.

Kamran Aghaie, director of UT’s Center for Middle Eastern studies, says that situations such as Kokabee’s are not uncommon in Iran. “Unfortunately, this is not a new story,” Aghaie says. “There’s no telling what will happen. They may release him, or keep him in prison, or they may kill him.”

Last month, a family member said that Kokabee was seeking a letter from UT-Austin stating that he was not a spy, and that he needed this letter before his court date. He also said that Kokabee was in good health and is being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

A petition for his immediate release is making the rounds of the science community.

Editor’s Note: Kokabee has pleased not guilty.


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