September 23, 2013

Imprisoned Iranian Physics Student Awarded APS Human Rights Prize

COLLEGE PARK, MD — Omid Kokabee, a University of Texas graduate student currently imprisoned in Iran, has been awarded the American Physical Society’s Andrei Sakharov Prize, which recognizes outstanding leadership and achievements of scientists in upholding human rights.

The APS selected Kokabee as one of two 2014 Andrei Sakharov Prize winners. He was cited for “his courage in refusing to use his physics knowledge to work on projects that he deemed harmful to humanity, in the face of extreme physical and psychological pressure.”

Kokabee was arrested in Iran as he was preparing to return to the United States after visiting family. He is currently serving a ten year sentence after Iranian authorities deemed his graduate studies as “communicating with a hostile government” and his academic support to be “illegal earnings.”

In a public letter dated March 2013, Kokabee states that he was being persecuted for refusing to work on Iranian military projects including the development of laser-based uranium enrichment technology that could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons. Kokabee reported that he has been offered freedom from prison several times in exchange for his cooperation, but has refused.

“With this recognition of Kokabee,” said Hossein Sadeghpour, chair of the APS Committee on International Freedom of Scientists, “the APS has not only reaffirmed the spirit of Andrei Sakharov’s work, but has shed new and important light on the plight of a budding scientist who cannot speak for himself.”

Along with Kokabee, the APS is also presenting the 2014 Sakharov prize to Boris Altshuler of the Lebedev Physical Institute, Moscow for “his life-long struggle for democracy in Russia and for his advocacy on behalf of the rights of neglected children.”

About the Andrei Sakharov Prize

The prize is named in recognition of the courageous and effective work of Andrei Sakharov on behalf of human rights, to the detriment of his own scientific career and despite the loss of his own personal freedom.
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The American Physical Society is a non-profit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents over 53,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and throughout the world. Society offices are located in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, D.C.