After Five Years in Iranian Prison, Omid Kokabee Is Released [Updated]

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Update, Wednesday, Aug. 31: A member of Kokabee’s family in Iran, who requested anonymity out of concern for their safety, said that Kokabee is feeling well and is eager to return to his scientific studies. “He is recovering very fast and as always, very lively to get back to science,” the family member said. “He is already working hard!” Asked if Kokabee might consider returning to the Forty Acres, the family member said, “He always loved UT. We have to give him some time to decide.”

Former UT graduate student Omid Kokabee has been released on parole, his attorney announced Monday.

Kokabee, 34, was a first-year doctoral student in physics at UT when he was arrested in Tehran, Iran, in January 2011 while attempting to fly back to Austin after visiting his family. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges that his supporters in the scientific and human rights communities say are false. Kokabee has said that he believes he was arrested for refusing to work on Iran’s nuclear weapons program after he was approached by a representative of the government.

“We are very happy and relieved,” said UT physics professor Herbert Berk, who helped organize advocacy efforts on Kokabee’s behalf.

In May, Kokabee was granted medical leave from Tehran’s Evin Prison and has been living at home while recovering from kidney cancer and other ailments that his family attributes to harsh conditions in the prison. He was eligible for parole after completing one-third of his 10-year sentence, although it’s unclear how exactly the terms of his parole will be defined. A story in Nature cites an anonymous source as saying that Kokabee will be free to leave the country, a claim that Berk said he has not been able to verify.

In a statement, Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, praised the decision while noting the poor conditions that Kokabee endured.

“While we welcome the decision to release Omid Kokabee after he unjustly spent more than five years in prison, his release does not compensate for the pain he endured during these years and the severely damaged health he suffered as a result of prison conditions,” Ghaemi said.

A UT spokesman declined to comment on the news of Kokabee’s release. In April, UT System chancellor William McRaven and UT president Greg Fenves called for his release in a letter to Gholamali Khoshroo, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Berk said that should Kokabee choose to resume his studies at UT, the physics department will welcome him back. “We would be overjoyed,” he said.

 

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