Omid Kokabee was on medical leave following surgery on April 22, 2016 to remove a cancerous tumour in his right kidney. He was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer earlier that month. He had complained of kidney and stomach pain for five years in prison but was denied specialized medical treatment.
In August 2016, Omid Kokabee was granted conditional release after the Head of Judiciary approved a ruling handed down by Branch 36 of the Court of Appeal in Tehran. In an interview with the Iranian Labour News Agency on August 29, Kokabee’s lawyer, Saeed Khalili, said the new ruling means that his client would not be returning to prison. Omid Kokabee has benefited from a provision under Article 58 of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code, which gives judges the discretion to grant conditional release to prisoners sentenced to 10 years or less who have served more than a third of their prison terms.
Iranian physicist Omid Kokabee is serving a 10-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Omid Kokabee is a prisoner of conscience held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholastic ties with academic institutions outside of Iran.
Omid Kokabee, a physicist specializing in optics and photonics, had been pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Texas, Austin. He was arrested in January 2011 when he went to Iran to visit his family. He was held in solitary confinement for 15 months and was subjected to prolonged interrogations, and pressured to make “confessions”. In May 2012, after an unfair trial in a Revolutionary Court at which it is understood that no evidence was presented against him, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having “connections with a hostile government”. His sentence was upheld on appeal in August 2012.
In an open letter written from prison in April 2013 Omid Kokabee said: “During interrogations which were conducted in solitary confinement, while all my communication with my family and the outside world was cut off, and while I was constantly being put under pressure and threats by receiving news about the horrible physical and mental state of my family, I was asked again and again to write up various versions of my personal history after 2005.”
The journal Nature reported Omid Kokabee wrote in an open letter that he was being persecuted for refusing to cooperate with Iranian military projects. In another private letter, he said these projects are related to nuclear applications. Omid Kokabee has also said that since he graduated from university in 2005 he had been “invited several times to work as a scientist and technical manager for military and intelligence projects”. This included being offered admission to a PhD program with full sponsorship by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. He declined all invitations.
“Is it a sin that I don’t want, under any circumstances, to get involved in security and military activities?”
Omid Kokabee suffers from a number of serious health conditions including heart and kidney problems and has not received adequate medical care. He has not been granted even one day of furlough in order to get medical treatment outside of prison, even though the prison doctor recommended that he be permitted to receive such medical care.
Before attending the University of Texas, Omid Kokabee had pursued graduate studies at the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain. Omid Kokabee is an ethnic Turkmen, a minority group in Iran.
Omid Kokabee was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize by the American Physical Society in 2013, 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.”