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Imprisoned Iranian Scientist Congratulates Winner of Prestigious Math Award

Saturday 11 October 2014

In a letter from prison to Maryam Mirzakhani, winner of the prestigious Fields Medal in mathematics, Omid Kokabee, the imprisoned Iranian physicist, congratulated her and hoped “all young talents in all corners of the world can blossom, away from any discriminatory views and pressure from security or ideological organizations, to freely grow in the field of science to serve humanity towards establishing peace and security in the world and a world free of fear.”

Iranian mathematician and Stanford University professor Maryam Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal, a top award in the field of mathematics which is widely believed to be the equivalent of a Nobel Prize, for her “sophisticated and highly original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, such as spheres.” Mirzakhani is the first woman to receive the award since its establishment in 1936.

Omid Kokabee, 33, was a post-doctoral Nuclear Physics student at the University of Texas at Austin at the time of his arrest on January 30, 2011, at Tehran’s International Airport. He was about to leave the country after visiting family in Iran. He was kept in solitary confinement for over a month during his 15-month pre-trial detention, and his family and lawyer were not allowed access to him.

On May 14, 2012, he was sentenced to ten years in prison by Judge Salavati for “contact with enemy states” and other falsified charges. Omid Kokabee was one of thirteen individuals who were accused of espionage charges during the show trial. He refused to offer any defense during the trial. Iranian Judiciary officials have so far been unable to provide any evidence for the charges for which they prosecuted and convicted Omid Kokabee. In an open letter from Evin Prison, Omid Kokabee wrote in 2013 that his arrest followed his refusal to cooperate with security agents on a military research project.

In his short letter to Maryam Mirzakhani, Omid Kokabee wrote: “Receiving a Fields Medal–the most prestigious mathematics prize–by you, a young mathematician and professor, and your being its first female recipient, is one of the happiest news I have heard in prison over the recent years, and as an academic individual, a young Iranian, and a fellow-alumni of Sharif Technical University, I take pride in this from the bottom of my heart.…Please accept my congratulations on behalf of my cellmates at Evin Prison.”

In an open letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on September 26, 2014, eighteen Nobel Peace Laureates asked for the “immediate and unconditional” release of Omid Kokabee. The letter was published in the prominent scientific publication, Nature. “Omid Kokabee is an individual who has stood by his moral principles and we urge you to exhibit compassion and allow him to return to his studies in order to fulfill his promising potential,” the Nobel laureates wrote intheir letter.

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