APS News

Omid Kokabee Honored with AAAS Award

Imprisoned Iranian physicist Omid Kokabee was honored by the world's largest general scientific society for enduring prison rather than contribute to weapons research in Iran.

February 23, 2015

On Friday, February 13, 2015, the American Association for the Advancement of science awarded Omid Kokabee its 2014 Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award after having been imprisoned for four years.

"[S]cientists are responsible for their works' impact on society and the future of humanity," Kokabee wrote in a statement from prison. "Scientists have a responsibility to refuse cooperation in any project which is harmful to society, such as weapons of mass destruction, the destruction of the environment or the misuse of science for ideological, false or deceptive purposes by governments or companies."

Herbert Berk, a physicist at the University of Texas, Austin where Kokabee studied and chair of APS's Committee on International Freedom of Scientists accepted the award on Kokabee's behalf.

Kokabee, a citizen of Iran was arrested at the Tehran airport in January 2011, and convicted by Iran's Revolutionary Court of "communicating with a hostile government" and receiving "illegitimate funds" in the form of his college loans. He was sentenced to ten years in prison without talking to his lawyer or being allowed to testify in his own defense.

Kokabee said in an open letter the reason for his detention is because he's steadfastly refused to work for Iran's military. Last year, Kokabee received the APS Sakharov prize for his unwillingness "to work on projects that he deemed harmful to humanity, in the face of extreme physical and psychological pressure."

After four years in prison, his health has begun to fail. Kokabee was granted a retrial in October, but in January an Iranian appeals court rejected his bid for release and upheld his original sentence.

He is the first doctoral student to receive the AAAS award. The selection committee commended his willingness to defend the principle of scientific freedom at the risk of his career and freedom.  The award cites him "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."

In his letter, he called for the creation of an international organization of scientists to train scientists and the public about the dangers of misusing science, and to defend scientists who take principled humanitarian stands. 

"[S]cience and scientists are too important and powerful to be at the service of inhumane activities or to the consolidation of dictatorships," Kokabee wrote. "As scientists are the core of empowering humanity, it is the scientists who must courageously carry out their humanitarian responsibilities."