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Society & Culture

Guards Punish Jailed Scientist for Media Reports

September 2, 2015
Natasha Schmidt
3 min read
Guards Punish Jailed Scientist for Media Reports

Jailed scientist Omid Kokabee has been denied family visits, access to reading materials and a reading light, IranWire has learned.

On August 27, prison guards searched Kokabee’s belongings twice, confiscating a small flashlight that he used at night to study. The guards also instructed him not to read books. A few days later, on August 31, Kokabee’s parents were denied permission for their monthly prison visit.

Under prison rules, inmates are allowed access to both reading materials and small reading lights or flashlights. This was the fourth time guards had confiscated the flashlight.

The raid came a week after IranWire, the Committee for Concerned Scientists and the Free Omid Facebook page published an article about Omid Kokabee’s case and called for his immediate release. The article coincided with Kokabee’s birthday, his fifth behind bars. Since then, authorities at Evin Prison have made life even more difficult for Kokabee, who has been suffering from a range of medical conditions, including pulmonary and heart problems.

On the morning of August 29, as Kokabee was reading a physics book in his cell, a guard told him to stop reading. Early morning is the only time inmates can study without interference, as a television is normally turned on at a high volume in the small cell from 8AM until 10PM. Twenty-five inmates share the cell.

Prison guards then told Kokabee that they would not allow relatives to bring him any more books. They refused to bring him four copies of New Scientist magazine that his family had ordered for him from the United States and brought to Evin Prison earlier that day. Kokabee has apparently said he thinks guards have denied him the right to read as a means of pressuring him, and that they are well aware that reading is the only activity he enjoys.

On August 31, prison authorities refused to grant Kokabee’s parents the monthly permission letter required to authorize prison visits. They also said they believed Kokabee was being punished for the IranWire article published on his birthday.

The physicist was arrested on January 30, 2011 after visiting family. He had been working abroad for a number of years, most recently at the University of Texas at Austin. He was given a 10-year sentence on charges of “communicating with a hostile government” and “illegal earnings.” Activists, including members of the scientific community campaigning on his behalf, believe he has also been targeted because he refused to work on Iran’s nuclear program.

The fact that Kokabee is being denied access to reading materials and faces further restrictions on his communication with the outside world suggest Iranian authorities have been rattled by recent calls for his release. As part of their appeals for his release, activists, including the Committee of Concerned Scientists and Amnesty International, have insisted that President Rouhani’s administration take its commitment to scientific progress seriously by securing Kokabee’s freedom.

In October 2014, 33 Nobel Physics Prize laureates wrote to Iran's Supreme Leader to appeal for his release. 

Despite hopes generated from the recent success of the nuclear deal in Vienna, there has been no change in the human rights situation in Iran, or for prisoners of conscience, including Omid Kokabee. 


Read the full article about Omid Kokabee’s case here 


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