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U.S. graduate student on trial in Iran

AUSTIN, Texas, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Scientists and academics are pushing for the release of a 29-year-old University of Texas student held in his native Iran on espionage charges since winter.

Omid Kokabee's trial began with a closed hearing in Iran Tuesday during which he denied the charges against him, Nature.com reported.

"Omid spoke strongly and did it well: he said he has not done any of the things he is accused of," defense attorney Saeed Khalili said in an e-mail to Nature after the hearing.

The defense lawyer said Kokabee was only allowed write his answers to questions on paper during the hearing.

Khalili said he would present Kokabee's defense at a date to be determined.

"I cannot make any prediction, but I think it will not go well, because the trial was very harsh and heavy," Khalili said.

If convicted, Kokabee's punishment could range from several years in prison to the death penalty.

The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman reported Kokabee, who began attending UT last fall to work on a doctorate in optics, a field of physics that studies light, was arrested at a Tehran airport when he returned to Iran for winter break, said John Keto, the graduate adviser for UT's physics department.

Kokabee has been in custody since.

The American Physical Society, of which Kokabee is a member, said he is accused of leaking Iranian nuclear secrets to the United States, accepting "illegal earnings" and "communicating with a hostile government."

The society's Committee on International Freedom of Scientists wrote a letter to the Iranian government in August asking for Kokabee's release.

The situation is "ludicrous" because Kokabee never studied nuclear science, Keto said.

"All he did was go home to visit his family, and they arrested him and threw him into a political prison," Keto said. "It's a scary, scary situation."

Keto said he has received word Kokabee has spent time in solitary confinement and may have been tortured.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

Since 1907, United Press International (UPI) has been a leading provider of critical information to media outlets, businesses, governments and researchers worldwide.

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