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Additional Reporting by Geoff Brumfiel
An Iranian semiconductor scientist said to be visiting the US for health reasons has been arrested and charged with buying lab equipment in violation of export laws, the Associated Press reports.
Atarodi’s publication record points to expertise in materials science and electrical engineering and shows past international collaborations with engineers at the University of California, Irvine, and CNRS in Toulouse, France, among others. He heads a large group researching microchip technology in the Electrical Engineering Department, according to SUT’s web site.
…..Baktash Behmanesh, a PhD student of Atarodi’s at SUT tells Nature, that he was one of the last people to see Atarodi in Iran before his departure for the US, and understands the trip was for health reasons. “We are looking forward to his freedom, because we believe that he is completely innocent,” Behmanesh says.
……Fredun Hojabri, a retired chemist who worked at SUT before immigrating to the US during the Iranian Revolution, and who now works to support equal opportunities for younger Iranian scientists in the US, says a major problem is the sometimes draconian interpretation of US sanctions against Iran, which are supposed to exempt scientific exchange but in practice can impede it. For example, a special permit is needed to purchase lab equipment that may have a dual use in the Iranian nuclear program. “Anything can fall in this category,” Hojabri says. He says while the occasional person may set out to violate the law, it is more common that legitimate visiting scientists pick up something in the US for their lab in Iran without thinking it is illegal.
Correction: I did not move to the United States during the revolution, but in 1981, after Cultural Revolution when the universities were closed.
US has arrested Iranian scientist
By Douglas Birch and Paul Elias
Associated Press / January 26, 2012
WASHINGTON—The United States has arrested and charged an Iranian semiconductor scientist with violating U.S. export laws by buying high-tech U.S. lab equipment, a development likely to further worsen Iranian-U.S. tensions.
Prison records show the U.S. has been holding Seyed Mojtaba Atarodi, 54, a microchip expert and assistant professor at Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology, in a federal facility in Dublin, Calif., outside San Francisco. The Iranian interest section in the Pakistani embassy in Washington said it was aware of the arrest.
Atarodi arrived at a bond hearing in federal district court in San Francisco Thursday wearing a green jump suit and politely bowed to his attorney. Before the hearing began, the judge closed the courtroom except to attorneys and members of the family. He was detained Dec. 7 after stepping off a plane in Los Angeles.
The arrest comes as the U.S., Israel and their allies are using diplomacy, sanctions and intelligence efforts to try to cripple what they suspect is Iran’s drive to lay the foundations of a nuclear weapons program.
Atarodi is listed as the author or coauthor of dozens of scientific papers dealing with microchip technology, though none appears to be explicitly related to military work. U.S. officials in the past have targeted suspected export control violators dealing in so-called dual-use technology, which can have both civilian and military applications.
Atarodi’s lawyer Matthew David Kohn said his client was treated well while in custody and that the prison officials stayed on top of his health concerns. Kohn said prosecutors “meticulously” built their case against Atarodi, who had come to Los Angeles seeking treatment from his brother’s cardiologist.
But Iranian researchers in recent years have become central figures in the struggle between Tehran and the West over the country’s extensive nuclear programs, which the International Atomic Energy Agency says has included arms-related research.
At least four Iranian scientists have died under mysterious circumstances over about the past two years, and Israel is suspected of playing a role in the attacks.
For years, Iran has insisted it is only interested in the peaceful uses of atomic energy and has resisted United Nation demands that it abandon its extensive uranium enrichment efforts. Enrichment technology can be used to make fuel for nuclear reactors or fissile material for bombs.
The U.S. and Israel, meanwhile, are believed to have recruited Iranian scientists as agents or encouraged them to defect. Some other Iranian researchers say they have been subject to harassment.
Dr. Fredun Hojabri, a former vice chancellor of Sharif University who now lives in the U.S., noted that friction between the U.S. and Iran has long posed problems for Iran’s scientists.
Hojabri cited an incident in 2006 when more than 50 researchers, executives and engineers from Iran headed for a forum on disaster management in Santa Clara, Calif., were detained and expelled after their arrival because their visas were revoked. The event was organized by a Sharif University alumni group.