Omid Kokabee

Omid Kokabee
After serving half of his original 10-year sentence in prison, Omid Kokabee has been released on parole. (8/30/2016).
Incarcerated Iranian, Russian Activist Share APS Sakharov Prize
Reprinted from APS News 22 Number 10 (Nov. 2013) :
An imprisoned Iranian laser physicist and a Russian scientist who devoted his life to the struggle for democracy and the rights of neglected children are the recipients of APS’s 2014 Andrei Sakharov Prize. The award recognizes the efforts of scientists to advance human rights around the world.

“It’s for people who have fought for and contributed to the human rights of scientists and human rights in general,” said Joel Lebowitz, a physicist at Rutgers University and Chair of the award’s selection committee.

Omid Kokabee, once a graduate student at the University of Texas in Austin, is now serving a ten-year prison sentence in Iran for “communicating with a hostile government” and possessing “illegal earnings” in the form of his college loans. Kokabee, who is an Iranian citizen, was picked up at the Tehran airport in January of 2011 and put on trial months later. After he was sentenced, he revealed in an open letter that the Iranian government had approached him on several occasions asking him to work for the military. He refused each time, and believes that is the real reason he was arrested.

“He is becoming, if not already, a symbol or icon of the pursuit of science free of political pressure,” said Hossein Sadeghpour of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who nominated Kokabee for the award. He added that he nominated him because of “what he did in prison, in captivity. For not succumbing to the pressure to confess to crimes that were alleged against him, and for writing open letters which give us a window, at least partly, [into] why he was kept for refusing to participate in military research work on banned weapons.”

He is the first Sakharov Prize recipient incarcerated at the time of the announcement. His affiliation on the award reads “Evin Prison, Tehran.”

Boris Altshuler was a close friend and colleague of Andrei Sakharov at the Lebedev Institute in Moscow. The two worked together in the late 1970s advocating anti-authoritarian reforms within the Soviet Union. After Sakharov was arrested and sent into internal exile, Altshuler became his biggest advocate, organizing petitions and publicity for the scientist turned activist.

“When Sakharov had his struggle for human rights, Boris Altshuler was very much involved with that,” said Eugene Chudnovsky of the City University of New York, and a member of the selection committee. “He didn’t have the standing of Sakharov. He could easily have been sent to prison for many years.”

The Soviet government attacked Altshuler’s professional career because of his activism. For five years in the mid-eighties the physics professor was demoted to staff janitor at the Institute on the urging of the KGB. After the fall of communism, he continued to advocate for human rights in Russia. In addition, he established “The Right of a Child,” to reform and raise awareness about the country’s troubled foster care system.


Iranian says he was jailed for refusing to engage in military research

Letters from imprisoned physicist describe offers of freedom in exchange for cooperation.
26 April 2013
In the public letter, addressed to Ali Sharifi, who Kokabee describes as his former roommate at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Kokabee says that he was asked to collaborate with the military before and during his detention, but always refused. The letter is dated March 2013 and marked as having been written from section 350 of Evin prison in Tehran, which houses those accused of political and security crimes.
See Nature‘s English translation of his letter (translated from the original Farsi) here:
This is Nature’s translation of Omid Kokabee’s letter from the original Farsi.
Dear Dr Ali Sharifi,
My dear friend and roommate during student years in Sharif University.
First, I hope you and your respected members of family are of good health and joy,
and immersed in God’s blessings. I am writing this letter to you from the section 350
of the Evin Prison – the section for political and security prisoners – on the second
month of the third year of my imprisonment. You are well aware that I was arrested
under the accusation of “gathering and conspiring against the national security of the
country’ on 30 January 2011 and was eventually sentenced to 10 years of
imprisonment for ‘relationship with the hostile State of USA’. I would also like to
remind you that in these instances where a case is being fabricated against a person,
and especially in my case being accused of spying, other individuals avoid me as they
may be accused of conspiracy themselves. In Iran usually no one can object to these
arbitrary security measures, especially when they attempt to fabricate cases against a
person. However, no evidence or witnesses have been presented neither to me nor to
my lawyer nor in the court (Division 15 of the Islamic Revolution Tribunal, headed
by Judge Salawati), supporting either of the abovementioned two accusations.
Obviously as there has been no relationship between me and the USA, no evidence
actually exists and they will never be able to supply evidence.
This sentence for ten years of imprisonment is, in essence, not a reaction to a mistake
I have not made, but a punishment for someone who refused to work in the security
and military system despite financial and technical incentives, following my belief in
“personal freedom for choosing one’s path in life”.
Since 2005, on several occasions I have been invited to project manage and work in
projects being carried out in security and military centres and there are many
witnesses and evidences available to confirm this fact. For example I was invited to
work in the Research Centre of Malek Ashtar University in Isfahan, I was offered a
doctorate scholarship by the Iranian Nuclear Energy Organisation, and I was invited
to produce proposals for the projects led by the Militiary Industries Organisation. On
the last occasion, on the morning of the day on which I was arrested later at night, I
was invited to the Iranian Nuclear Energy Organisation and after being chased
incessantly. I was obliged to attend a meeting in the office of the Vice President of the
organisation. My answers were the same answers I had given before, and fortunately I
still have a copy of the meeting authorisation on that day.
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 (times, places, people), which
mostly involved my scientific and research collaborations with Dr Sediqi Bonabi in
the Physics faculty of Sharif University, and my stay abroad (Europe and the US), for
research and study. You have witnessed yourself my enthusiasm while working in Dr
Sediqi Bonabi’s research teams, which resulted in several scientific outputs, including
international papers, large-scale academic projects on Laser and its application, and
the flourishing of his research teams even after I left them.
You were also well aware that after finishing my studies in Iran, following my deep
interest in my research and educational field, I succeeded in rising to the highest
peaks of global science, and successfully received scholarships from the Centres at
which I was studying.
After the interrogation period, at least on 3 specific occasions I was encouraged to
collaborate with them. The first time was in June 2011, after I was transferred from
the Section 350 of Evin Prison to the national security section of the Ministry of
Intelligence (209). Someone who introduced himself as a delegate from the
Nokhbegan Organisation proposed that if I accepted their offer, I would be released
the day after. But as my answer was negative, this did not happen.
The second time, two months later, a delegate group from Tehran, arranged by the
governor of the city, visited my parents at our home in Gonbad Kaavos, and asked
them to visit me in Tehran and convince me to collaborate with them in a meeting that
was held in the presence of experts on my file.
The last time, and before my first court session, in October 2011, an inmate in the
prison who had been there for only a few days and left the prison shortly after, invited
me to collaborate in military and security labs. This time in much more detail. I was
supposed to work in these labs under supervision, in lieu of my imprisonment, and I
would have had received even a salary. This was nothing but a hostage-taking
situation and abusing my file information. Interestingly I had not even been tried yet
when he offered me to spend my ‘term in prison’ in a lab instead of the Evin Prison.
I was informed that unfortunately the efforts of you, my dear friends, who tried to
help me, had the same conclusion: Either collaborate or spend 10 years of
Dear Doctor, firstly, you were my roommate and having lived together for four years,
you know my personality, my dreams, my family’s scientific, cultural and academic
background very well. You are deeply aware of how hard I worked and how much
pain I have caused my family, my professors and myself, in order to reach the highest
levels of science. Secondly, from the numerous reactions from my friends and
colleagues in the universities and scientific societies abroad, you must have realised
that while abroad, I still strived to grow in my scientific efforts. I can refer to the letter
from the Scientific Olympiads, various reports in the most prestigious scientific
journals of the world such as Nature and Science, the letter from eight Nobel laureates
to the Supreme Leader of Iran, and correspondence from societies such as ASP, IOP,
OSA, IEEE,SPIE, American Society for Photobiology, ACS, ISOP, EOS, University
of Texas, University of Oslo, State University of Ohio, Campina University, State
University of New York, etc.
The third phase has been my function in the Evin Prison, as an individual striving to
increase the knowledge and skills of my co-inmates via educating them. You can
investigate this with all the inmates here, or those who have already left or will shortly
be released.
During my studies and work, I have done everything in my power to help my country
and people; I have always loved my country and believed in it, especially in its
educational and scientific capacity. And now, after I have finished my postgraduate
studies, instead of entering the academic world without any concerns (like yourself
and a few other common friends), I am an inmate here, in the Evin Prison, having
another 8 years of prison in front of me, and I ask myself why I was treated so. Did I
do wrong in choosing to study Nuclear Physics? Has it been a mistake to perform
research on a strategic and applied discipline such as Laser Physics and its nuclear,
medical and industrial applications with well-respected professors in prominent
international research centres? Is a sin to come from the Turkman ethnic minority and
the Sunni religious minority (I prefer not to use this fact in my arguments, and my
interrogator too warned me in my last interrogation session not to discuss this after I
am transferred from the Section 209 of the Ministry of Intelligence to the Evin
Is it a sin that I don’t want, under any circumstances, to get involved in security and
military activities? Am I mistaken to wish to work in the academy or in industrial and
non-military research centres, so I can transfer my experience and knowledge to my
I hope, with the opportunities available to you outside the prison, in collaboration
with our other friends, and for the sake of our common view on using science to help
the society, tell me what I should do in this period (I have just turned 30 after
spending two years in prison), when I am thirsty for performing scientific research.
Omid Kokabee
Political and Security Section 350
Evin Prison
PS. In another letter to my professor Dr Sediqi Bonabi, I have included details of my
discussions. I have enclosed a copy of that letter for you.
  • Blog/Latest News – 15th May 2012

    Iranian physicist sentenced to prison: Nature news and comment

    Nature, one of the world’s premiere scientific journals, has been following the case of imprisoned physics student Omid Kokabee in Iran. Citing the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Nature’s most recent article about Kokabee is below:
    Iranian physicist sentenced to prison
    Omid Kokabee gets 10 years in jail for ‘communicating with a hostile government’
    by: Michele Catanzaro
    (15 May 2012) Omid Kokabee, an Iranian graduate student who has been imprisoned in Tehran for the past 15 months, was sentenced to 10 years on Sunday for allegedly conspiring with foreign countries against Iran.
    Judge Abolghasem Salavati of Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolution Court — who is famous for his harsh sentences — tried 10 to 15 people in the same trial, under the collective charge of collaborating with Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.
    Kokabee, a graduate student who previously worked on the physics of optics at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, Spain, and more recently at the University of Texas in Austin, was arrested in Tehran in February 2011 on charges of “communicating with a hostile government” and “illegal earnings” (see ‘A year in jail without trial for Iranian student accused of spying’).
    Close contacts of Kokabee in Iran have lamented the fact that no proof was presented at the trial to justify the sentence. Whereas other prisoners in the group declared themselves guilty in a television broadcast on the evening before the trial, the physics student has consistently denied all charges and refused to speak in court. (Faces are obscured in the broadcast, but Kokabee may be the person who appears at 24 seconds in a blue shirt.) He plans to appeal the sentence, according to his contacts.
    International concern
    Since Nature first highlighted Kokabee’s case (see ‘Missing physicist may have been jailed in Iran’), various organizations have written to the Iranian authorities asserting his innocence and asking for a fair trial — including the Committee of Concerned Scientists, a human-rights group based in New York; the American Physical Society in College Park, Maryland; and a group of four international optics organizations. His case has been included as a cause for concern in the report of Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
    In an open letter written while in prison, Kokabee claimed that the authorities were trying to obtain his “collaboration” through threats to him and his family; in another, he insisted that he was not a political activist, something that his friends confirm. Kokabee’s friends speculate that his frequent trips to Iran — totalling four or five in 2010 — may have aroused the suspicions of the Iranian authorities.
    “This will send chills through the Iranian higher-education system, particularly scholars and students who seek to enhance and expand their horizons abroad,” says Hadi Ghaemi, a physicist previously at City University in New York and director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, an association that has recently promoted aninitiative for imprisoned students.
  • APS News follows the situation of Omid Kokabee by revealing an open letter addressed to the Iranian Minister of Justice, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, that was published in the Iranian news outlet Kaleme. Please visit: (added 10/20/2011).
  • An Iranian graduate student at the University of Texas, Mr. Kokabee went on trial in Tehran / Iran on charges of having relations with a hostile country and receiving illegitimate funds.  Mr. Kokabee is studying optics in the physics department of the University of Texas. For more information please visit USA Today: (added 10/09/2011).
  • Here we add CV of Omid here (added 8/4/2012)
  •  Education
  • 2010- Now Physics, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, USA
    Study of Laser-plasma interaction for the generation of energetic particles
    2007- Now Photonics, The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), Barcelona, Spain
    Development of ultrafast, high-power, highly efficient and tunable Optical Parametric Oscillators
    2007-2009 Photonics, Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), Barcelona, Spain
    Development of GHz repetition-rate femtosecond Optical Parametric Oscillators
    2000-2005 Applied Physics and Mechanics, Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran
    Fluid dynamics on heat exchangers
    Studying industrial and medical applications of energetic particles generated in laser-plasma interaction
    Work Experiences
    2007-2010 The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), Barcelona, Spain
    Laboratory Research Assistant in Ultrafast Optics Lab
    Full design, construction and development of Lasers and Optical Parametric Oscillators
    2006-2007 Research Institute of Petroleum Ind. (RIPI) at National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC), Iran
    Laboratory Research Assistant in Gas Spectroscopy Lab
    Feasibility study of applications of lasers and UV sources to enhance catalysts in petroleum industry
    2005-2006 Zener Electronics Co, Iran
    Research Assistant in Electro-Optics Department
    Design and testing electro-optical devices for lab and industrial applications
    2003-2005 Sanate Choube Shomal, Iran
    Sales officer in Sales Department in international transactions section

    Research Interests
    Development of Tunable Lasers for Medical and Industrial Applications
    Ultrafast Optical Parametric Oscillators and Amplifiers
    Laser-Plasma Interaction for Particle Acceleration
    Medical Applications of High Energy Particles
    Other Majors Interests
    Entrepreneurship and Technlogy-based Start-ups
    New Languages

    7. Efficient, high-power, ytterbium-fiber-laser-pumped picosecond optical parametric oscillator
    O. Kokabee, A. Esteban Martin, M. Ebrahim-Zadeh
    Optics Letters, 35(19):3210-3212 (2010)
    6. Optimum output coupling in optical oscillators using antiresonant ring interferometer
    A. Esteban-Martin, O. Kokabee and M. Ebrahim-Zadeh
    Optics Letters, 35(16):2786-2788 (2010)
    5. Femtosecond nonlinear frequency conversion based on BiB3O6 (Review paper)
    V. Petrov, M. Ghotbi, O. Kokabee et al.
    Laser & Photonics Reviews, 4(1):53-98 (2010)
    4. Extended-cavity, tunable, GHz-rep-rate femtosecond optical parametric oscillator pumped at 76 MHz
    O. Kokabee, A. Esteban Martin, M. Ebrahim-Zadeh
    Optics Express, 17(18):15635-15640 (2009)
    3. High-harmonic-repetition-rate, 1-GHz femtosecond OPO pumped by a 76-MHz Ti:sapphire laser
    A. Esteban-Martin, O. Kokabee, K. Moutzouris, and M. Ebrahim-Zadeh
    Optics Letters, 34(4):428-430 (2009)
    2. Efficient, high-repetition-rate, femtosecond optical parametric oscillator tunable in the red
    A. Esteban-Martin, O. Kokabee and M. Ebrahim-Zadeh
    Optics Letters, 33(22):2650-2652 (2008)
    1. Evaluation of transmutation of 137Cs(γ,n)136Cs using ultra-intense lasers
    R. Sadighi-bonabi and O. Kokabee
    Chinese Physics Letters, 23(6):1434-1436 (2006)
    Conference Contributions
    16. Variable output coupler for absolute power optimization of an optical oscillator
    IONS North America II, Tucson, Arizona, USA, Sep 2010 (Oral)
    15. High Power, Highly-Efficient, Fiber-Laser Pumped Optical Parametric Oscillator
    ICFO-OSA seminars, ICFO-The Institute of Photonic Sciences, Spain, June 2010 (Oral)
    14. High-Power, Fiber-Laser-Pumped Psec Optical Parametric Oscillator for the Near- to Mid-IR
    CLEO-2010, San Jose, USA, May 2010 (Oral)
    13. Efficient, High-Power, 16-GHz, PS Optical Parametric Oscillator Pumped by an 81-MHz Fiber Laser
    CLEO-2010, San Jose, USA, May 2010 (Oral)
    12. Performance and limitations of quasi-phase matching semiconductor waveguides with picosecond pulses
    Photonics North, Niagara Falls, Canada, June 2010
    11. Fiber-Laser-Pumped High-Power, High-Rep-Rate, Ultrafast Opt. Parametric Oscillators in near-mid-IR
    IONS7 Conference Spring Meeting, National Univ. Ireland, Galway, Ireland, March 2010 (oral)
    10. Ultra-high-repetition-rate wavelength-tunable ultrashort pulse sources
    Autumn meeting, Condolider SAUUL, Bilbao, Spain, 16-17 November 2009 (oral)
    9. Multi-GHz-Repetition-Rate High-Power Wavelength-Tunable Fsec & Psec Sources in the Near-IR
    Workshop on Sources of Super-intense Ultrashort Lasers, Porto, Portugal, Oct 2009 (Oral)
    8. Extended-cavity GHz-repetition-rate femtosecond optical parametric oscillator pumped at 76 MHz
    CLEO/Europe-EQEC, Munich, Germany, June 2009 (Oral)
    7. 1-GHz femtosecond optical parametric oscillator pumped by a 76-MHz Ti:sapphire Laser
    CLEO-2009, Baltimore, USA, June 2009 (Oral)
    6. Internally frequency-doubled PPLN femtosecond optical parametric oscillator tunable in the visible
    CLEO-2009, Baltimore, USA, June 2009 (Oral)
    5. Repetition-Rate-Tunable Multi-GHz Femtosecond Optical Parametric Oscillator
    NATO Advanced Study Institute, Ottawa, Canada, December 2008
    4. Tunable, High-Repetition-Rate, Femtosecond Optical Parametric Oscillator in the Visible
    IEEE Photonics GlobalSingapore, 8-11 December 2008
    3. Near Infrared Optical parametric Oscillators
    Optics and Photonics Conference, Kashan, Iran, August 2008 (Oral)
    2. Nonlinear Ultrafast Optical Source for the Visible and Near-Infrared
    Nolineal 2008 Conference, Barcelona, Spain, 16-19 June 2008 (Oral)
    1. Ultra-intense Laser, a new tool for PET radionuclide production
    10th Iranian annual meeting of nuclear medicine, Tehran, Iran, December 2006
    Workshops and summer schools
    8. Workshop on “Endeavors of Petawatt Lasers”, June 2010, Salamanca, Spain
    7. Workshop on Sources of Super-intense and Ultrashort Laser Pulses, Oct 2009, Porto, Portugal
    6. NATO Advanced Study Institute 2008 on Lasers and their applications, Dec 2008, Ottawa, Canada
    5. School on “Physics with Ultra-High Fields” by ELI &LMU, Oct 2008, Frauenwörth, Munich, Germany
    4. Summer school on “Lasers in 21st century”, July 2008, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain
    3. Workshop on “Second order nonlinear optical interactions” by Prof. Saltiel, 2009, Barcelona, Spain
    2. Workshop on “New physics by intense lasers” by Prof. Luis Roso, 2008, UAB Barcelona, Spain
    1. Workshop on “Time-resolved nonlinear spectroscopy” by Prof. Buckup, 2008, UPC Barcelona, Spain
    Business and Personal Competence
    Intensive course on “Entrepreneurship in Photonics”, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 2010, Belgium
    The two-week long course was in three modules including: introduction to business economics, business aspects of photonics and starting a technology venture
    Intensive course on “From Science to Business”, ESADE Business School, 2010, Barcelona, Spain
    By one of the most famous business schools in Europe it included: introduction to strategy, marketing for scientific entrepreneurship, the entrepreneurial process, entrepreneurial finance, team management and legal aspects for the new ventures
    Extensive course on “Business in Photonics”, Polytechnic University of Catalunya (UPC),2008, Spain
    Course given by one of Barcelona’s venture capitalists and cooperation of several entrepreneurs in teaching it included: evaluating business ideas, analyzing the market and industry, crafting a business model, market analysis and marketing plan, pitching a venture capitalist and venture finance
    Certificate on “Introduction to Patent Engineering & Management”, Herrero & Asso.,2009, Spain
    Certificate on “Effective Scientific Writing” from Principae,2009, Belgium
    Certificate on “Effective Oral Presentations” from Principae,2009, Belgium
    OSA – Optical Society of America since 2007
     – Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers since 2007
     – Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers since 2007
    – American Physical Society since 2010