Iran: Silencing Scientists and Squelching Scholarship
A November 16, 2013 open meeting in Washington DC Iran: Silencing Scientists and Squelching Scholarship, organized by: Amnesty International, Georgetown University Amnesty International, and the Georgetown University Science and Human Rights Group, was moderated by Jessica Wyndham of the AAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program The speakers focused on Omid Kokabee, a graduate student at University of Texas/Austin who was sentenced to ten years in jail for allegedly conspiring with enemies of Iran and receiving “illegitimate funds.”
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Download the Omid Kokabee Chronology, by Eugene Chudnovsky
Dr. Eugene Chudnovsky, Co-Chair of the Committee of Concerned Scientists and Distinguished Professor of Physics at the City University of New York shared with the audience a chronology of the case of Omid Kokabee, the graduate student at Texas University/Austin, who was arrested in 2011 and convicted of espionage in 2012. See attached PDF. The Committee of Concerned Scientists believes that the accusations against Kokabee are groundless and has been advocating on his behalf since his arrest.
Dr. Arash Alaei, prominent HIV/AIDS researcher and former prisoner of conscience in Iran, met Kokabee while he and his brother Kamiar Alaei were in Evin prison. Dr. Alaei, who now heads a Health and Human Rights institute at Albany University, emphasized the importance of international support for colleagues whose human rights are violated.
Dr. Herb Berk, Professor of physics, University of Texas, Austin and Omid Kokabee’s campus advocate, at first was reluctant to organize support because Kokabee’s family did not want publicity and the Iranian students at Austin were afraid to join. However, a petition on behalf of Kokabee received nearly 1,000 signatures. At a meeting for Kokabee sponsored by Amnesty International, the AAAS Coalition for Human Rights and Science, attended by the brothers Alaei, Texas U/Austin student Ellen Hutchison found out about this case and started her efforts on behalf of Omid.
Ellen Hutchison, physics student at Texas/Austin, created a video about Omid (available on concernedscientists.org) As a result, she was able to get in touch with Omid’s lawyer and create a document detailing the human rights violations in his case. She also is able to get some information about his welfare. He is working in prison and has completed a theoretical paper but was not allowed to submit it to an international conference. He recently received the 2013 Sakharov Prize and apparently, international attention has eased pressure on him and on his family.
Rudi Bakhtiar, Journalist and former CNN anchor emphasized the seriousness of Iran’s continuing human rights violations. She said that a greater percentage of Iran’s population has been imprisoned, tortured and silenced than that of China, the No. 1 violator. Her own relatives were murdered. Iran controls information within and without the country. She recommended increased press, TV and media coverage of these crimes.
Dr. Hossein Sadeghpour, Chair, Committee for International Freedom of Scientists (CIFS), American Physical Society and Director, Institute for Theoretical Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics (ITAMP), Harvard University, had recommended Kokabee for the Sakharov Prize because of his refusal to participate in military projects for the Iranian government. Hossein expressed concern that the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran did not mention Kokabee at all in his recent report to the UN. Hossein also stressed the importance that sanctions can have on the Iranian government
Elise Auerbach announced that Amnesty International has named Kokabee a Prisoner of Conscience. Amnesty was sponsoring a new petition for Kokabee that can be signed at.
Co-sponsors of the meeting: The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, American Physical Society, United4Iran, Committee of Concerned Scientists.
Iran: Silenced, Expelled, and Imprisoned
A November 13, 2013 meeting Iran: Silenced, Expelled, and Imprisoned. at The New School was co-sponsored by the New School, Amnesty International and Scholars at Risk in New York City, sought to highlight the ongoing imprisonment and persecution of students and scholars in Iran.
Ariel Mack (New School) provided welcoming remarks. She is the editor of Social Research: An International Quarterly which runs a section called “Endangered Scholars Worldwide” providing updates of cases of scholars and students.
Gissou Nia (Executive Director, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center) moderated the meeting. She mentioned the status of a number of human rights problems in Iran.
Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh (Institute for Women’s Leadership, Rutgers University) discussed women’s rights and the major challenges that exist in Iran. She led a campaign called against stoning. There is a big presence of intelligence and security on campuses, which greatly restricts students’ ability to freely associate.
Mehdi Arabshahi (exiled Iranian student activist) is currently pursuing a Master’s degree. He was imprisoned himself, held 100 days in solitary confinement. He discussed severe limitations to student associations and publications on university campuses in Iran. Those of the Baha’i faith are banned from education in the country. The idea was put forward (by whom?) that President Rouhani could be encouraged to allow students to be readmitted who were banned from education.
Hadi Ghaemi (Executive Director, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran) discussed the harsh repression on campuses. Academic persecution of students and professors, ideological vetting of faculty is widespread. Oscillating resurgences of student activities challenge the status quo but do so at a great price. Many student activities have been banned. Lashes of repression against universities include cultural revolution (1980), dorm raids (1998), and Green movement (2009). What I found particularly interesting was his comments that media and international efforts for imprisoned academics are almost always helpful, that the publicity puts pressure on judges, torturers, etc to pull back on the severity of what they do.
Hadi Kahalzadeh (visiting scholar) mentioned that severe restrictions have been placed on professors. Hiring committees must also consider whether a candidate is loyal to the country. Hundreds of professors have been expelled or forced to retire. Parts of textbooks in the Social Sciences were reviewed. Since universities can mobilize students, there is fear about which faculty get hired. He emphasized that more publicity is needed for students who are banned from education. He proposed that if help for these students came by placing them in schools elsewhere around the world (if at all feasible) that the Government would no longer have this form of punishment as a tool.