A doctoral student at the University of Texas (UT), Austin, who has been detained for months in his native Iran on espionage charges will go on trial on 4 October, according to sources close to the student.
Omid Kokabee, who was working toward a Ph.D. in optics, was arrested at a Tehran airport while on vacation in Iran in late January or early February. He had been due to appear in court on 16 July on charges of "illegal earnings" and "communicating with a hostile government," but officials cancelled his trial at the last minute.
News of the new trial date comes as a number of scientific groups—including the American Physical Society (APS), the international optics society SPIE, the Optical Society of America, the International Commission for Optics, and the European Optical Society—have signed open letters to the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, requesting clemency for Kokabee. They join an online petition for Kokabee's release.
In its letter to Khamenei, APS suggested that the Iranian authorities had acted on a misunderstanding of Kokabee's expertise. "Mr. Kokabee has no training in nuclear physics, is not politically active, and is not associated with any political movement in Iran," the letter read. "Rather his primary concerns were his science studies in the field of optics. This area of physics has essentially no overlap with nuclear technology."
Kokabee, 29, graduated in applied physics and mechanics from the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran in 2005, and went on to receive a master's degree in optics from the University of Barcelona last year. He then began a Ph.D. at UT Austin, studying the interaction of lasers with plasmas.
Since his arrest, Kokabee has been detained at Evin prison in northwest Tehran. He is believed to be suspected of leaking Iranian scientific information and working with the CIA. Sources say he is physically and psychologically well, and is managing to pursue some studies.