An Iranian man who is a graduate student at the University of Texas has been put on trial for espionage in Tehran.
Saeed Khalili, an attorney, told Associated Press that his client, Omid Kokabee, faces charges of having relations with a hostile country and receiving illegitimate funds.
Kokabee, 29, who was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International airport in February, has pled not guilty to both charges.
Khalili further said he has not been allowed yet to speak with Kokabee, student of optics in the physics department at the University of Texas.
William Powers Jr. the president of the University of Texas, said in a statement: The University of Texas is deeply concerned for the fair and humane treatment of our graduate student Omid Kokabee, who has been imprisoned for more than nine months and reportedly stands trial Tuesday for espionage. Although we don't know all the facts of this case, we do know that Mr. Kokabee is serious about his graduate studies, well regarded by his colleagues and a valued member of the UT community.
A recent column in The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of UT, criticized university officials for not doing more to help secure Kokabee’s release.
“UT's failure to generate public awareness of Kokabee's condition will embolden other authoritarian regimes to muzzle their international students,” the column stated.
“It could be argued that since Kokabee isn't American, he doesn't deserve the support of UT. But the University's non-discrimination policy states our students should be treated equally regardless of citizenship. UT student groups can similarly find comfort in espousing generalities on supporting international justice and human rights, but Kokabee gives us a face of a fellow member of our community in need of our open support.
The Daily Texan column indicated that Kokabee was suspected of leaking secrets of Iran’s nuclear program to the Americans and that he has been detained in the Evin prison.
Under Iran’s penal code, a charge of espionage could lead to execution.
The Daily Texan column further speculates that Kokabee might have been targeted by Iranian authorities because he is a member of a minority group -- a Sunni Turkmen in a country dominated by Shia Persians.
Moreover, the arrest of Kokabee might be a signal to the large Iranian diaspora to refrain from anti-government activities.