Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Victims and Witnesses

Omid Kokabee's Mother: My Son's Crime Was To Turn Down Military-Security Organs

Ms. Haq-Nazari/Interview with Jaras Website/ABF translation
Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation
July 19, 2013

Summary: Omid had rational reasons for noncooperation. He did not see his situation suitable for collaboration. First of all, he had made elaborate plans for himself, which he had told me about many times. He wanted to complete his education and research to the best of his ability to become fully expert in the field of powerful lasers. The task required that he remain at universities outside the country until the completion of his education and be detached from any collaboration inside, which was more to do with security issues related to his presence outside the country...

A graduate of Sharif University of Technology, Omid Kokabee obtained a doctorate in Barcelona before being invited to University of Texas to continue his education there as a post-doctoral student of nuclear physics.

Three years ago, in 2011, when the 31 year old Dr Kokabee, returned to Iran to visit his family, he came under the surveillance of security forces. He was arrested as he was as he was departing the country, on 30 January 2011. He was subsequently kept in solitary confinement for a long period while his family and lawyer were not allowed to have any contact with him. He has been behind bars in Evin Prison for three years.

Safar Bibi Haq-Nazari, who for 30 months has only managed to have brief meetings with her son once a month, expressed concern about Omid's health. "My son has lost considerable weight. I do not recall having ever seen my son so physically weak."

The following is the text of an interview by Jaras with Omid Kokabee's mother:

[Q] Omid wrote a letter to one of his friends from university two months ago in which he gave the reason for his 10-year sentence as "punishment" for refusing to collaborate with security and military forces. What is Omid's field of study, and in which sphere did they seek Omid's collaboration?

[A] Omid is an experimental physicist. The main focus of his study both inside and outside Iran was laboratory application of advanced laser techniques. As Omid used to say, in the sphere of practical and applied sciences our country lags behind and has quite a long way to catch up with the rest of the world. As a result, it desperately needs experimental researchers and an advanced work force in new sciences. And that was his main reason for continuing his studies at the best European and US laboratories so that upon return to Iran he would be able to play an effective part by working at universities and research centers.

Omid's sphere of work was atomic physics and his specialist field of study was manufacturing of laser and laser application. He was able to write articles and submit and publish his papers internationally even during his undergraduate program at Sharif University of Technology. That was the main reason he was invited [to work in the nuclear program]. Omid also had other traits, which made him an exceptional individual. He was fluent in the English language, able to establish contact and interact with foreign lecturers and specialists, and manage laboratories and scientific projects, which he had proven to his research colleague Dr. Sadighi and others.

As Omid has told us, in his first project for which he was invited to Esfahan in 2005, he was supposed to manage an atomic project.

[Q] Why did Mr Kokabee refuse to collaborate?

[A] Omid had reasonable motives for noncooperation. He did not see his situation suitable for collaboration. First of all, he had made elaborate plans for himself, which he had told me about many times. He wanted to complete his education and research to the best of his ability to become expert in the field of powerful lasers. The task required that he remain at universities outside the country until the completion of his education and, due the security considerations associated with his presence outside the country, stay away from any cooperation [with sensitive projects] inside [Iran].

As an Iranian student and researcher in a sensitive field of research (applied physics), Omid tried to avoid anything that would threaten his ability to complete his study. He was determined to avoid collaboration or contact with any institution other than the university until his return to Iran. Omid was unhappy with the environment and policies that are, sadly, a burden on Iranian students studying in the West.

Moreover, [the projects] he had been invited to collaborate with in Iran fall within the military and security sectors, in which Omid was and remains reluctant to be involved. Omid has always wished to continue his work in an academic and civilian environment so that he may be able to have constructive interaction with the international scientific world and carry on with his scientific projects away from any pressure. And naturally, working in those sectors would have made it impossible for him to pursue such trajectory.

[Q] Omid said in his letter that the propositions had been repeated and he was offered freedom in return for cooperation. He has specifically mentioned that in relation to October 2011 (eight months after his arrest). Were those propositions made to him again after that date?

[A] In addition to the propositions that Omid had received from 2005 to the day before his arrest, they talked to him again specifically in the period between the end of his interrogation and the building of a case and before his first court appearance in October 2011 (eight months after his arrest). In the course of three stages of talks with him, they promised to close his case and not take him to court if he cooperates. But Omid did not give in.

[Q] Omid's lawyer, Mr Khalili, had again emphasized two months ago that there "is no evidence or even a reason that would warrant a trial". What was involved in the process of building a case against Omid?

[A] Omid had been seriously threatened by his interrogator and was subjected to psychological pressure during his interrogation. They kept him blindfolded, facing the wall for hours or kept him in solitary confinement for long periods. He was deprived of calling his family or anyone on the outside. Omid, who was only used to being in respectful and friendly environments, and had also worked in an academic environment, was subjected to persistent interrogation. But fortunately, despite all these conditions, and contrary to their assumptions, they failed to associate him with anything other than scientific studies and academic contacts. And the testimony of his lawyer, who has managed to gain access to his complete dossier, is proof of that fact. Mr Khalili has reiterated that there is no evidence or even a reason that would justify a trial, and he is willing to defend him and prove his innocence in an open and fair court in the presence of impartial judges and foreign and domestic journalists, in accordance with Article 168 of the constitution.

Omid has never been granted the right to meet with his lawyer. It seems that in addition to punishing my son for refusing to cooperate, his interrogator, who has developed a grudge against him, is playing a role in his plight. Unfortunately, there is no one we can resort to. We have tried to pursue his case by writing to the Judiciary and the Elite Foundation. But our efforts have been to no avail. Even during the trial, the Physics Faculty of Sharif University of Technology sent an official letter to Judge Salavati via my son's lawyer. But he [Salavati] did not even allow Omid's lawyer to read it out in court. Aside from efforts to clear up the case, it took 18 months of intense efforts before his father and I were allowed to have a face-to-face meeting with our son, when I managed to hug him albeit briefly.

[Q] You mentioned a letter from the Physics Faculty of Sharif University of Technology in support of Mr Kokabee. In addition to that, many letters have been sent to the Supreme Leader and the judicial authorities from the elites, universities, and scientific associations, calling for the release of their colleague and fellow academic. Have there been any reactions from the judicial authorities to these letters?

[A] Sadly, despite the awareness of judicial and security authorities of these letters, they have been persistently ignoring these very high level international expressions of support. We are truly grateful for all the support and hope that the continuation of these independent reactions may ultimately lead to a review Omid's case by the judicial authorities. One of his lecturers at the University of Texas said that from what they had seen of my son's personality, they were astonished that while every county in the world does its utmost to provide the necessary facilities for their elites and specialists, such as Omid, to enable the public to benefit from their skills, in Iran they imprison them.

[Q] In his letter to the head of the Judiciary in 2011, he had mentioned the pressure put on his family by security forces, who he said had taken his family "hostage". How have you been treated? Are you still subjected to pressure from security forces?

[A] Owing to his situation, Omid is unfortunately unable to tell us anything about the security pressure. But he emphasizes every time that, because of security threats, we must not contact any individuals or organs inside or outside the country with regard to his situation. He repeats this warning every time.

[Q] Your son has been in prison for over three years. Have you applied for a furlough?

[A] Yes. Both Omid and his lawyer have applied for a furlough several times. They only responded to the last request in March 2012, and that response was negative. Moreover, the judge supervising prisons (assistant prosecutor), Mr Khodabakhsi, has said that it is out of the hands of the Tehran Prosecutor and that the furlough request had been rejected by the Intelligence Ministry.

[Q] Are your weekly meetings taking place regularly and without any problems?

[A] Although almost 30 months have passed since the start of my son's prison term, we have only been allowed to visit him very few times on special occasions that apply to all; they are not permitting us to have face-to-face meetings with him. Moreover, they do not allow him to receive scientific articles in prison, which he needs in order to continue his research and remain up-to-date.

We live in the town of Gonbad Kavoos, which is a nine-hour bus journey from Tehran. We come to Tehran once a month to visit our son, and unfortunately the visit is only for 20 minutes. We would like to visit more but he himself objects to it because he thinks the journey is too difficult for me and his father. He has asked us to instead pay more attention to his eight brothers and sisters who are studying.

[Q] How is your son's physical and psychological health?

[A] Omid is a very rational individual. Since childhood he has shown an ability to adapt to difficult conditions. My son, who loves teaching and research, has been trying to share his skills in English, French and Spanish languages with his cell mates. In fact for the past nine months, he has been giving weekly lessons in physics, mechanical and civil engineering to his cell mates. He has so far translated a book on the history of the Middle East and another on human rights, with the assistance of activists from the two areas. He is currently in the process of translating a new book on physics. Although the prison authorities do not let him have the physics scientific papers that we take for him, my son is doing his best to continue his research and studies in physics. Provided prison authorities allow him to send his writings outside prison, he has currently prepared an article for publication in scientific journals or presentation at a conference.

Sadly, my son's physical health has been deteriorating. Although he tries not to mention it in order to spare us any distress, we know that he is suffering from renal (kidney stones), digestion (stomach problems) and dental problems, and no serious attempts have been made to tend to them. My son has lost considerable weight. I do not recall having ever seen my son so physically weak.