Imprisoned For Refusing to Work on Military Projects “Harmful to Humanity”

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Omid Kokabee

Omid Kokabee

It was the end of January 2011. Young Iranian physics whiz Omid Kokabee had just had a pleasant winter break visiting with his family in Iran and was eagerly anticipating returning to Austin to continue his doctoral studies in the Physics Department at the University of Texas. He was at the airport in Tehran when security agents approached him; instead of boarding his flight as planned, his life suddenly turned into a nightmare from which he has yet to awaken.

It is now three years later and Omid Kokabee sits in Evin Prison in Tehran, serving a ten-year prison sentence after being convicted in a Revolutionary Court of unsubstantiated charges of “communicating with a hostile government” (presumably the U.S.) and “accepting illegal funds” (apparently a reference to the stipend that graduate students at his department typically receive).

While in detention, he was held in solitary confinement, subjected to prolonged interrogations, and pressured to make a confession. His interrogators reportedly threatened that he would be tortured and that professors at Iranian universities with whom he had worked would be arrested. During questioning, he was reportedly made to write down details of individuals he had seen in embassies or at conferences, and was told by those questioning him that some of the people he had met were CIA operatives.

Amnesty International has declared him to be a prisoner of conscience, held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholarly ties with academic institutions outside of Iran. AI calls for his immediate and unconditional release from prison.

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Will Rouhani Create Meaningful Reforms or Play Political Games?

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The global community recently celebrated the release of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and what appears to be dozens of others, among them political prisoners. However, we should reserve judgment regarding the future of human rights under the new administration in Iran until all those who remain unjustly imprisoned are freed and Iranians achieve the freedoms they have been demanding for several decades.

Sotoudeh, who had been detained in Iran since September 2010, was originally sentenced to 11 years in jail for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “acting against national security.” In reality, she is a lawyer who has defended many high-profile human rights campaigners, political activists, and juvenile offenders on death row. Throughout her career she publicly, but peacefully, challenged the Iranian authorities about the shortcomings of the rule of law and due process in the proceedings against her clients.

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2 Historical Traumas That Continue to Cast a Long Shadow Over Iran

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Khavaran Cemetery (Photo Credit: Iranian.com).

Khavaran Cemetery (Photo Credit: Iranian.com).

One of my favorite writers, William Faulkner, famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I’ve been thinking about how societies wrestle with the profound historical trauma resulting from human rights violations on a massive scale since I saw the powerful new film “The Act of Killing.” It takes on the mass killings of hundreds of thousands of supposed “Communists” in Indonesia after an attempted coup in 1965, but not by using typical documentary devices of archival footage and talking heads.

Instead, the director Joshua Oppenheimer opted for a unique and unsettling approach – asking some of the perpetrators of the killings, who have never been held accountable for their abuses, to recreate their crimes, often in staged genre settings inspired by their favorite classic gangster films and fluffy musicals.

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The Future of Human Rights in Iran Under President-Elect Hassan Rouhani

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People hold campaign posters of Iranian presidential candidate, Hassan Rowhani in the streets during a presidential election rally on June 11, 2013 in Tehran, Iran (Photo Credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images).

People hold campaign posters of Iranian presidential candidate, Hassan Rowhani in the streets during a presidential election rally on June 11, 2013 in Tehran, Iran (Photo Credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images).

Iran’s challenges are not few, from job creation and stopping inflation to improving foreign relations. Most presidential candidates in 2013 ran on such platforms. However, there was a key issue that was not directly addressed in their political vernacular: human rights.

While many jubilant Iranians and a hopeful international community are touting president-elect Hassan Rouhani as a reformist because of his promise to ease restrictions at home, free political prisoners, and to offer more transparency for Iran’s controversial nuclear program, it should not be ignored that he remains, nevertheless, among those select few candidates approved to run by Iran’s Guardian Council.

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Ten Ways to Repress a Journalist

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People hold posters as they mark World Press Freedom Day in Tbilisi (Photo Credit: Vano Shlamov/AFP/GettyImages).

People hold posters as they mark World Press Freedom Day in Tbilisi (Photo Credit: Vano Shlamov/AFP/GettyImages).

Governments and other organizations across the world are perfecting techniques to prevent journalists from shining a light on corruption and human rights abuses. From trumped-up charges and removing work licenses to murder, here are 10 ways journalists are repressed and prevented from reporting freely and fairly.

1. Physical Attacks
In some countries such as Syria, Turkmenistan and Somalia, governments, military forces and armed groups attack and even kill journalists who are seen to be critical of their policies and practices.

In May 2012, 18-year-old citizen journalist Abd al-Ghani Ka’ake was fatally shot by a government sniper in Syria while filming a demonstration in Aleppo. Armed opposition groups have also attacked and killed journalists.

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Five ‘Crimes’ That Can Get You Killed

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In some countries having consensual sexual relations outside marriage, offending religion and even drinking alcohol is punishable by death © Michael Matuzak

Even though most of the world has turned its back on the death penalty, some countries continue to impose capital punishment for acts like having consensual sexual relations outside marriage, opposing the government, offending religion and even drinking alcohol.

This is despite international law barring states from handing out death sentences for any of these crimes.

Here’s a list of some “crimes” that, in some parts of the world, can get you killed.

Iran's Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery (Photo Credit: Etienne Laurent/AFP/Getty Images).

Iran’s Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery (Photo Credit: Etienne Laurent/AFP/Getty Images).

1.        Consensual Sexual Relations Outside Marriage
In Sudan, two women, Intisar Sharif Abdallah and Layla Ibrahim Issa Jumul, were sentenced to death by stoning on charges of “adultery while married” in separate cases in May and July 2012. In both cases, the women were sentenced after unfair trials involving forced “confessions.” The sentences were subsequently overturned on appeal, and both women were released.

In Iran at least 10 individuals, mainly women, remain on death row having been sentenced to stoning for the crime of “adultery while married.”

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We have an Arms Trade Treaty!

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After weeks of intense negotiations at the UN Conference, including a bitter roadblock put up by Iran, Syria and North Korea, a final treaty was adopted! The treaty prohibits arms transfers that would be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We are now closer than ever to the golden rule we’ve been advocating for more than ten years: Governments must prevent arms transfers where there is a substantial risk that they will be used to commit serious violations of human rights.”

More importantly, we’re closer than ever to winning the fight that’s been 20 years in the making! While this is a big win, there is still a lot of work to do. The treaty is adopted but “asleep” – it needs to be signed and ratified by 50 countries before it will enter into force. Amnesty International USA will demand that the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress take this important stand for human rights by signing and then ratifying this landmark treaty.

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