Iranian Doctoral Student Being Tried In His Country As American Spy

By Daria Carmon

Omid Kokabee, an Iranian Ph.D. candidate in physics at the University of Texas in Austin, is standing trial on espionage charges in his homeland, after being held in custody since the end of January or February. It is believed he was picked up at the Tehran airport en route to continuing his graduate studies in the United States. Physics World reports that Kokabee allegedly divulged Iranian scientific data and was a CIA operative. The specific charges against him encompass unlawful earnings and contact with a hostile nation, a veiled reference to the CIA. The adviser for graduate studies in Kokabee’s department, John Keto, scoffed at Internet accounts that depicted the accused as a renowned nuclear physicist and maintained he was instead a beginning doctoral student in optics and photonics. His friends and colleagues suggest a likely motive for the arrest is to deter student involvement in the pro-democracy Green movement disputing the 2009 election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Sources close to Kokabee gave his whereabouts while awaiting trial as Tehran’s Evin Prison, which has gained an infamous reputation for the many academic and political prisoners there as a result of Iran’s backlash against suspected spies for Western countries. The presiding judge at the trial is Abolghasem Salavati who, according to Eugene Chudnovsky of the Committee of Concerned Scientists, an international human rights organization, is noted for the severe penalties he imposes. Chudnovsky theorizes that a death sentence is within the realm of possibility, as a means to frighten Iranian students overseas. His organization has petitioned Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, to grant clemency to Kokabee, while the accused’s attorneys feel that international pressure and the media spotlight might aid their client.

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