By Herbert L. Berk
As the Iran nuclear deal has marched forward from negotiations to agreement to implementation, a University of Texas graduate student in physics named Omid Kokabee has sat in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where he has languished for nearly five years for the crime of refusing to engage in scientific research that he deems harmful to humanity.
As an engineering physics student in Iran, Kokabee worked in the rapidly expanding field of laser technology. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree and several years of industrial laboratory experience, he was accepted into the physics graduate program at the University of Texas but was unable to attend due to visa issues. Instead, he enrolled in the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona, under the tutelage of Majid Ebrahim-Zadeh, an Iranian scientist working on laser development and the president of Radiantis, a company manufacturing state-of-the-art infrared lasers. One possible application of this technology is the enrichment of uranium to produce the high-grade fissile material necessary for nuclear reactors and weapons.
In 2010, after completing his master’s degree in Barcelona, Kokabee sought to pursue his doctorate at the University of Texas, and this time he was able to enter the United States. During winter break in December 2010, he traveled to Iran to visit his ailing mother. While there, government scientists offered him a position working on security and military research, something Kokabee had repeatedly turned down before. He again refused. Then, while attempting to return to Texas in January 2011, he was detained by Iranian authorities, who offered him freedom from incarceration if he agreed to work for the government. Once again, he said no. Subsequently, Kokabee was convicted in the Islamic Revolutionary Court of collaborating with an enemy of Iran and sentenced to a 10-year prison term.
In a letter from prison, Kokabee said that if he had accepted the government position, he would forever be a hostage because of the military secrets he would acquire. This is a remarkable insight from an individual who at the time was not yet 30. “Is it a sin that I don’t want, under any circumstances, to get involved in security and military activities?” Kokabee asked.
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