(As published in the National Post)
This week is Iran Accountability week, where we address the fourfold Iranian threat – nuclear, terrorism, incitement, and Iran’s violations of human rights. I am proud to be a part of the Iranian Political Prisoner Advocacy Program – in which parliamentarians around the world are encouraged to advocate on behalf of an Iranian political prisoner.
Let me introduce you to Dr. Omid Kokabee, a 33-year-old Iranian experimental laser physicist. He has attended university in Iran, Spain and Texas. Kokabee started his second PhD at the University of Texas at Austin in 2010.
In January 2011, Kokabee went home to Iran to visit his family. It was during this family visit that he was arrested. He has been in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison ever since. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of the unsubstantiated charges of “communicating with a hostile government” (the U.S.) and receiving “illegitimate funds.” These so called “illegitimate funds” are actually the normal stipend given to doctoral students at the University of Texas.
While in detention, Kokabee has been subjected to solitary confinement, prolonged interrogations, and pressured to make a confession. His sentence was handed down in May 2012, after an unfair trial in a Revolutionary Court at which reportedly no evidence was presented against him. Kokabee has publicly stated that he is being persecuted for repeatedly refusing to work on Iranian military projects and help fulfil Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
If Iran is able to develop a military nuclear capability, there is little doubt they will use the bomb – or the potential to rapidly build a bomb – to bully other Middle Eastern states. Iran is a destabilizing force in the region, and they have given the West no reason to expect that it will use nuclear power peacefully or responsibly.
Kokabee has been imprisoned for the last three and a half years, and has been denied proper medical treatment. He is suffering from heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and chest pains. These symptoms require immediate examination by a cardiologist.
He also has a history of kidney problems and is in severe pain. In addition, Kokabee has been suffering from stomach problems in prison. There is a history of stomach cancer in his family, and he requires an immediate biopsy to ensure he is not suffering from stomach cancer. Kokabee also needs urgent dental treatment.
Kokabee’s precarious medical condition lends urgency to the call for his immediate release. Despite his numerous, potentially serious health issues, he has not been granted even one day of medical furlough in more than three-and-a-half years, even though he is theoretically entitled to it, and in spite of the fact that even the prison doctor has recommended he receive treatment outside prison.
In September 2013, Kokabee was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize from the American Physical Society 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.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science also awarded Kokabee its 2014 Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award “for his courageous stand and willingness to endure imprisonment rather than violate his moral stance that his scientific expertise not be used for destructive purposes and for his efforts to provide hope and education to fellow prisoners.”
On Jan. 7, 2015, a Revolutionary Court re-affirmed the sentence. Kokabee is yet another example of the travesty of justice in Iran. There is no greater threat to international peace and security than the Iranian regime. We must not forget the daily atrocities going on inside Iran, and continue to draw attention to them on the world stage. The Iranian people deserve the dignity, respect and freedom that they have been denied for far too long. I call on President Rouhani to exercise clemency, suspend his sentence and immediately release Kokabee.
James Bezan is the MP for Selkirk-Interlake.