During 2009, the Committee of Concerned Scientists continued to advocate on behalf of over 50 scientists, academics, and their organizations, located in 19 countries.
As we have before, CCS wrote again to protest the sentence imposed on Sayed Perwez Kambakhsh, a journalism student from Balkh University, who had been sentenced to death by a court in Mazar e Sharif for distributing an article that questioned why, in Islam, men are allowed to have four spouses in Islam while women may only have one. The death sentence, after being at first affirmed by the Afghan Senate, was overturned by the President and Senate of Afghanistan. Courts in Afghanistan commuted the sentence to 20 years in prison and we protested.
Good news: In September, President Hamid Karzai signed a pardon in secret for Kambakshs, who, fearing reprisals, was forced to leave Afghanistan.
In a letter to the founder and CEO of Google Corp., we expressed our support for the company’s unwillingness to comply with Internet censorship in China after attacks on Google’s e-mail systems in China compromised the privacy of communications by human rights activists. CCS recently learned, we wrote, that peaceful expressions in China of almost any political views are characterized by the authorities as subversive and are punished by long prison sentences. Despite existing business considerations involved in this decision, in the long run, we said, China can only prosper as a modern and prosperous nation if its people are able to enjoy rights to free expression, free access to information, and scientific and academic freedom.
We welcomed the release from prison of Tohti Tunyaz, an Uighur historian and writer, but protested his inability to leave China to rejoin his family in Japan under restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities. At the time of his arrest Tohti was studying for a Ph.D. in Uighur history and ethnic relations at Tokyo University in Japan. Tohti was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “illegally acquiring state secrets,” such as documents relating to the second East Turkestan Independence Movement and pre-1949 Xinjiang history.
We urged the Chinese authorities to immediately release on medical parole imprisoned human rights activist Huang Qui. Huang was sentenced in November of 2009 to three years in prison for “illegal possession of state secrets” by the Chengdu Wuhou District Court, Sichuan Province, after being tried in a three-hour secret trial. Huang has been in detention since June of 2008. According to his wife, Zeng Li, his health has seriously deteriorated and he has been diagnosed with an abdominal aneurysm. Huang, who ran the Tianwang or Sky Net Human Rights Center in Chengdu, had used his Web site to make an appeal to investigate shoddy school construction on behalf of five families whose children died in a collapsed middle school in the May 2008 earthquake. His lawyer called the charge of possessing state secrets “fabricated” because the documents cited in the case were rules for handling petitions by citizens that had been published in newspapers and on the Internet. On February 8, 2010, a court in Beijing upheld Huang Qui’s sentence.
Good news: Zeng Hongling, the retired teacher whose arrest for discussing corruption in school construction we protested in 2008, has been released.
CCS called for the reinstatement of Professor Wang Quingying by officials in charge of Guanzhou Huali Technology District. Wang, a professor of economics at the university’s Huali College, was forced to resign from his teaching position. Wang had signed Charter 08, which called on China to respect the requirements of its constitution, of China’s international obligations, and of basic human rights. More recently, Wang joined fellow dissidents on an outing to Guanghzou’s Baiyun Mountain, reportedly wearing a tee shirt with the slogan “One Party Dictatorship is a Disaster.” This peaceful expression of opinion led to his firing.
Note: In February 2010, Beijing’s High Court upheld the unprecedented 11-year sentence of activist Liu Xiaobo, who initiated Charter 08. We advocated in 2008 on behalf of Xiaobo and we will write again to protest the sentence. Jon Huntsman, the United States ambassador to China, joined by 20 other diplomats, met the unusually long sentence with a rare public statement of protest.
Wrote in concern about the arrest and firing of Professor Guo Quan. On October 16, 2009, Sugian Intermediate People’s Court in Jiangsu Province sentenced Guo Quan, former Nanjing Normal University associate professor and former member of China Democratic League (one of the eight state-approved “democratic” parties) to ten years in prison for “subversion of state power.” Between 2007 and 2008, Guo Quan published articles and an open letter on the Internet addressed to President Hu Jintao and Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. The articles and letters covered problems in China such as those of laid-off workers, demobilized military cadres, and peasants who lost their land. We strongly urged Chinese authorities to reverse the sentence against Guo Quan and to order reinstatement in his academic position at Nanjing Normal University.
CCS appealed to President Raoul Castro to immediately release Dr. Darsi Ferrer so that he can continue to pursue his humanitarian work as a medical professional. Dr. Ferrer is the Director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Center for Health and Human Rights in Havana, a medical facility that he established for poor Cubans who would not otherwise enjoy adequate medical care. Dr. Ferrer and his wife, Yusnaymi Jorge Soca, were arrested in July, according to human rights advocates, the day before they planned to lead a demonstration in Havana. Note: recent reports claim that Dr. Ferrer was mistreated by prison authorities. We will write again.
In a case of long-standing interest to CCS, we wrote to the acting secretary for human affairs in the US State Department on behalf of Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim shortly before President Obama’s trip to Cairo in June 2009. We asked her to put Dr. Ibrahim’s case on President Obama’s agenda to discuss with President Mubarak. We had written several times on behalf of Dr. Ibrahim, an eminent sociologist and democracy activist, in 2003 and again in 2008.
Good news: Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim’s sentence to two years hard labor for “defaming Egypt”–based on his criticism of President Mubarak’s poor human rights record in an op-ed article in the Washington Post –was overturned in May 2009, just before President Obama’s state visit to Cairo. However, Dr. Ibrahim, 71, is still not able to return to Egypt because of other pending charges.
CCS urged authorities in Chahttisgarh state to provide medical care and release from incarceration for Dr. Binayak Sen, a human rights activist and a pioneer in health care to poor and indigenous people, who has been incarcerated on charges of violating security laws. Amnesty International says those charges are unfounded. Local authorities imprisoned him without filing charges for seven months and kept him in solitary confinement for three weeks.
Good news: On May 25, 2009, India’s Supreme Court granted Dr. Binayak Sen unconditional release on bail. Dr. Sen and his wife, Ilene, went to Christian Medical College in Velour for medical care.
We expressed deep concern about the fate of Dr. Kamiar Alaei, a doctoral candidate at the SUNY Albany School of Public Health, and his brother, Dr. Arash Alaei, a former Director of the International Education and Research Cooperative of the Iranian National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, who were detained June 22-23, 2008, in Iran. The Alaei brothers were convicted of fomenting a “velvet revolution” for three to six years. The doctors’ arrest may have been precipitated by an international award of funds enabling them to pursue their work of treating AIDS victims.
Good news: On September 17, 2009, the New York Academy of Sciences awarded the 2009 Heinz R. Pagels human rights award to the brothers Alaei for their work with drug addicts and prostitutes in Teheran. The brothers were able to smuggle out a moving response of gratitude.
We wrote to the CEOs of a number of European telecommunication companies in concern for a monitoring system sold to the Iran government by their company or an affiliate thereof. In 2008, Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) delivered a monitoring center to Iran telecom, Iran’s state owned telephone company. The servers can tap phones, read e-mails and provide surveillance of electronic data communication networks. The companies involved also provide support to the system in all of its aspects. We urged Nokia, Perusa and Nokia Siemens to investigate the use of the NSN monitoring system by the Iranian government and to terminate any portion of their contracts that enable the government to violate the rights of its own people.
Several times, we protested the treatment of Iranian students and professors in prison and subjected to mass trials before and after the recent elections. Reports also indicate that widespread violence was used on behalf of the government against university students. In particular, Kian Tajbakhsh, a sociologist and urban planner with a doctorate from Columbia University, was arrested in July, 2009, although he denied any participation in the election or in the protests. An American citizen, Tajbakhsh had been invited to lecture at Columbia University this semester.
We wrote again to protest when an Iranian Revolutionary court convicted Tajbakshs on October 20 of fomenting unrest against the government and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. He was prosecuted with more than 100 other defendants in show trials after the election sparked the biggest challenge to the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution. He has denied any participation in the protests. This arrest and conviction have evoked protests from the United States State Department and academic institutions throughout the world.
We also wrote to urge release of 23-year-old Clotilde Reiss, who had spent five months teaching French at the University of Isfahan and was arrested as she prepared to fly out of Tehran because she had used her cell phone to take pictures of demonstrators.
Good news: Ms. Reiss was released on bail to the French embassy in Teheran pending her verdict.
CCS appealed on behalf of mathematics and business school graduate Majid Zamani. According to his family’s petition for his release, Zamani served as deputy director at the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics in Iran and also worked with the Iranian Parliament Research Center. Zamani, a graduate of the Electronics and Computer Science School of Technical Tehran University, earned a Master’s Degree from Illinois University in Chicago as well as a degree in Management of Public Administration from Columbia University. After supporting Mir Hussein Moussavi’s presidential candidacy, Zamani accepted the election results as officially reported and did not participate in any protests. Nevertheless, he was arrested in June and has been held in Evin prison on unclear charges, without the benefit of counsel. We urged Iranian authorities to release Majid Zamani on bail and to accord him the rights to a fair trial.
We wrote to the Prime Minister of Israel in concern about Palestinian student Berlanty Azzam, a resident of Bethlehem. Ms. Azzam, who claims she entered the West Bank on a valid visa in 2005, was a month away from completing her studies in business management at a West Bank university when Israeli soldiers stopped her at a checkpoint. The military deported her to Gaza because, as a holder of an identity card with a Gaza address, she was in the West Bank illegally. The Israeli Supreme Court has upheld the army’s decision. We urged the government to make an exception to the applicable rules in order to allow Ms. Azzam to complete her university studies since Israel raised no security concerns. We also recommended to the Prime Minister and the Knesset that they amend the laws governing access from Gaza to the West Bank to add an exception for educational travel for students and for teachers who do not pose security threats.
In response to several petitions circulating in US, Canadian and Australian universities that urged a boycott of Israeli academics, the co-chairs of the Committee of Concerned Scientists drafted a letter opposing all academic boycotts. Our letter explained why such boycotts are unfair and harmful to scientific progress, which relies heavily on international collaboration and meetings. The Chronicle of Higher Education published our letter in October of 2009. The full text is available on our website, concernedscientists.org
We wrote to local and state authorities in Chiapas in concern about mistreatment of sixteen year-old student Jose Emiliano Nandayapa Gomez. According to Amnesty International, Nandayapa was beaten unconscious by municipal police officers in San Cristóbal de las Casas on June 27, 2009. When he tried to file a complaint, he and his relatives were intimidated and attacked by police. We urged the officials to carry out an impartial investigation into the ill treatment of José Emiliano Nandayapa and to take steps to guarantee the safety of Nandayapa and his family so that they can pursue their legal complaint.
We wrote in concern about the health of our colleague Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been charged under State Security laws and jailed after spending 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest. Aung San Suu Kyi, a graduate in philosophy, politics and economics of Oxford University, pursued graduate studies in the United States before winning national elections for President in 1990 in her native country. Suu Kyi, who is reportedly in poor health, is now 63 years old. Her sentence was due to expire on May 27, 2009 and cannot be extended under Burmese law but she has been jailed on new charges stemming from the unsolicited visit of an American.
Good news: Aung San Suu Kyi’s sentence was commuted to 18 months’ house arrest.
We also wrote to inquire concerning Dr. Tin Myo Win, who has been serving as physician to Aung San Suu Kyi. Dr Win, was barred from seeing her and was later taken into custody for questioning.
Good news: Dr. Win was released and allowed to treat Suu Kyi.
CCS urged national, local, and human rights officials to guarantee the safety of Dr. Salomon Lerner Febres, former president of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who reported that on September 5, 2009 his dogs were poisoned and killed. On September 23, 2009 anonymous calls were made to his home and to his office, warning that “What we did to your dogs, we will do to you.” Dr. Febres is the current president of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and was rector of the Catholic University of Peru. As president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he has been the subject of threats and harassment before. We urged the authorities to investigate the threats to Dr. Febres, to punish the perpetrators, and to provide him with police protection as necessary.
We wrote on behalf of journalist and human rights activist Alexandr Podrabinek, who went into hiding because of death threats after publishing an article about the current government’s defense of the former Soviet Union’s crimes against its own people. His wife, Alla Podrabinek, has alleged that the entire family was the target of a campaign of intimidation, which may be ordered or supported by the government. Web sites of youth movements that support Prime Minister Putin have been publishing hate slogans of a racist and anti-Semitic nature. They published Podrabinek’s phone number and urged people to call him. We called on the government to warn against violence to Podrabinek’s family or person and to prosecute such harassment.
Good news: Responses in December, 2009 hfrom the Attorney General of the Russian Federation informed us that the Investigation Department of the Perovsky region had denied Podrabinek’s request to prosecute activists of the Youth Movement “Ours” because of threats against him. The Inter-Region Attorney Office, however, found this decision unjustified and sent a request to the Attorney of the Perovsky region to rescind the decision not to prosecute.
We requested the release of Dr. Matrouk al-Faleh, Professor of Political Science at King Saud University in Riyadh, who was arrested by secret police on May 19, 2008, and held without charges. Dr. al-Faleh’s arrest came just days after he publicly criticized conditions at Buraida General Prison, where two Saudi human rights activists, Dr. Abdulla al-Hamid and Dr. al-Hamid’s brother Isaa, are serving jail terms.
Good news: Professor al-Faleh was released on January 10, 2009, after being held for more than seven months without charges, in solitary confinement, without access to legal counsel.
Wrote to urge the government of Spain to reinstate Ariel University Center in Samaria as a finalist in “Solar Decathlon Europe,” an international competition between university architecture departments to design and build a self-sufficient house using solar power. The Spanish Housing Ministry disqualified Ariel University Center from competing in the finals on the grounds that Ariel is located in the occupied area of Palestine. According to Ariel, the decision harms 10,000 students, including 500 Arab students studying in the Center.
Good news: Mounting international opposition to the exclusion of Ariel University from the Solar Decathlon has garnered over 3,000 signatures, according to the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
Wrote to urge the dropping of all charges against Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, who was charged under the kingdom’s “lese majeste” laws for statements in his book, “A Coup for the Rich,” an academic analysis of recent political crises in Thailand. Charges under the law, which punishes “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent,” have also been filed against Australian lecturer Harry Nicolaides at Mae Fah Luang University, sentenced to three years in jail, based on the contents of a novel that sold 10 copies.
Good news: Professor Ungpakorn, in exile in the United Kingdom, has found a position at a university where he can continue his work. Harry Nicolaides was pardoned.
As scientists and scholars, CCS expressed great concern about the suppression of an issue on evolution of a scientific magazine published by TUBITAK, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, the leading agency for management, funding and conduct of research in Turkey. The March issue of “Bilim ve Teknik” (Science & Technology), which would have covered Darwin and his contributions to science, was changed at the last minute to cover another topic, and omit all reference to Darwin and evolution. One source stated that the Vice President of TUBITAK, Dr. Omer Cebeci, made the decision and that Dr. Cigdem Atakuman, the editor, was fired for planning the issue on Darwin.
We wrote to urge the Government of Turkey to investigate the arrests of Dr. Mehmet Haberal, President of Ankara’s Baskent University, and of Fatih Hilmioglu, the former head of Inonu University in Malatya, who were arrested on April 13, 2009. The arrests, according to news reports, were part of over 200 others, based on allegations of a “secularist” conspiracy to topple the elected government. more than 5,000 people, including students and university professors, protested the arrests. Professor Haberal, 65, was hospitalized with a heart problem. We urged the Government to immediately release Drs. Haberal and Hilmioglu, in accordance with Turkish and international law, and to protect the right of academics to freely express their opinions.
We wrote again when the Drs. Mehmet Haberal, Dr. Rezi Ferit Bernay, and other doctors and academics were among 194 people who are on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the democratically elected government by violence — serious charges that could lead to several life sentences Such mass trials violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party. We urged the authorities to grant these defendants individual trials so that they can defend against these charges. Dr. Bernay and several others were released on bail pending trial for health reasons. Dr. Haberal, however, remains in custody after five months, despite the diagnosis of cardiac arrhythmia, severe anxiety and depression.
We asked President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov and Foreign Minister Rachid Meredov to revoke new travel requirements that since July of 2009 have prevented hundreds of students from leaving for study abroad, according to Human Rights Watch. The students, bound for Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and the United States, were told they did not have appropriate documents required for foreign study. Recent easing of these restrictions was limited to study in state-run universities, thus still preventing study at private, foreign entities.
Urged the new Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, to exercise his administrative authority to reverse the decision made under the Bush administration not to provide a hearing on the clearance revocation of Dr. Moniem El-Ganayni, a nuclear physicist. El-Ganayni, a US citizen who had served DOE’s contractors on nuclear programs for 18 years, was the imam at a Pennsylvania State Correctional Center in Marienville, Forest County in 2007. Revocation of his security clearance followed this activity. The ACLU is challenging the revocation on the grounds that not providing a hearing and opportunity to rebut specific charges is a violation of El-Ganayni’s freedom of religion and association. A federal district court “reluctantly” upheld the DOE and the ACLU appealed.
Note: We are working with our colleagues at Scholars at Risk to obtain an academic position in Europe or the Middle East for Dr. El-Ganayni who is still unemployed in Egypt.
We wrote to the President and the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Columbia College Chicago in concern for our colleague Professor Zafra Lerman. Our earlier letter concerned obstacles placed by Columbia College to Dr. Lerman’s access to funds for the biennial Malta conference, that she has pioneered and administered for a long time, designed to promote peace in the Middle East. More recently, we expressed deep distress when we learned that Dr. Lerman was dismissed in October of 2009, after 32 years of service as a tenured faculty member of Columbia College Chicago and that Dr. Lerman had not been given any written notice or explanation concerning the grounds for her dismissal. We urged the College to reconsider its dismissal of Dr. Lerman and provide her with reinstatement, back pay, benefits, and access to her materials, and that the College follow its own procedures and policies in providing her with due process.
CCS contributed to Uzbek human rights’ advocate Nozima Kamalova’s expenses during her fellowship at the New York University Law School in academic year 2009-10. The program Scholars at Risk obtained the fellowship for her because Kamalova would be in grave danger if she returned to her native Uzbekistan.
We protested the forced retirement of Dr. Raimundo Villegas, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IDEA). In addition, we understood that Dr. Jaime Requena, who had applied for retirement, was fired from his tenured post at IDEA without due process. We urged the Government to reinstate Dr. Villegas and to grant Dr. Requena his request for retirement and to reinstate academic freedom of research on the basis of the quality of research proposals.
CCS also appealed on behalf of Dr. Reinaldo Di Polo, a physiologist, and Dr. Gioconda San Blas, a microbiologist, distinguished scientists at the Centro de Biofisica y Bioquimica (IVIC) in Caracas. IVIC faculty retire after 30 years of service and then take part in the Permanence in Research Activities (PLI) program, a program that has been in place for decades. The PLI program includes 3-year terms that are renewable. The Venezuelan government decided to close down the PLI program. Consequently, some 24-30 scientists at IVIC are in limbo because, once their 3-year term is complete, no renewal will be granted The closing of the PLI program jeopardizes the continuation of scientific careers of the most productive and distinguished scientists in Venezuela. We urged reinstatement of the PLI program and reversal of the terminations of Drs. Di Polo and San Blas.
Sophie Cook, Executive Director, CCS