TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A lawyer says an Iranian graduate student studying at the University of Texas has gone on trial in Tehran on charges of having "relations with a hostile country" and receiving "illegitimate funds."
Saeed Khalili says his client, Omid Kokabee, pleaded not guilty to both charges at the opening session of his trial Tuesday.
Iranian authorities arrested the 29-year-old Kokabee in February at the Tehran airport.
He was studying optics in the physics department at the University of Texas.
Khalili told The Associated Press that he has not been able to speak with Kokabee yet.
Though Iran and the United States have no diplomatic relations, many Iranian students apply to study in the U.S. every year.
University of Texas President William Powers Jr. released a statement yesterday regarding Kokabee's situation, The Daily Texan reports:
"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," Powers said in the statement. "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 Texan criticized the school for not taking an active role in Kokabee's defense:
In any case, UT's failure to generate public awareness of Kokabee's condition will embolden other authoritarian regimes to muzzle their international students.
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.
An online petition has also been started in support of Kokabee.