During the past year, we have achieved some successes, and persevered in our struggle when we haven’t. We welcomed some notable releases from jail – of Dr. Cyril Karabus in the United Arab Emirates, and of Drs. Kemal Guruz and Mehmet Haberal in Turkey. These were achieved after several years of advocacy by CCS and other science human rights organizations. The following summary of our 2013 activities, provide you with an overview of the continued need for our advocacy.
We will release a more detailed report on the year’s activities in the beginning of 2014.
Dr. Abdul Jail Al-Singace, a professor of mechanical engineering who had taught at the University of Bahrain and was a leader of the democratic opposition, is serving a life sentence. CCS wrote several times to the Attorney General of Bahrain and other authorities in protest against a conviction that appeared to be based solely on Al-Singace’s reporting on human rights abuses in Bahrain. In 2013, following an appeal to CCS by his family, we wrote again expressing our concern that Al Singace, who is wheelchair bound, has not had access to family visits in prison or to medical attention, in spite of his serious health problems.
For following their ethical duty to treat injured protesters in the spring of 2011, 82 nurses and doctors were arrested and disappeared, in clear violation of international treaties and customs. International outcry, including letters from CCS, followed. Bahrain’s Attorney General vacated rulings of the military courts against these medical professionals and ordered them tried in civilian courts. While many of the defendants were acquitted in those second trials, nine health care professionals were convicted of felony charges. GOOD NEWS: In 2013, Physicians for Human Rights reported that a Bahrain appeals court reversed the convictions of 21 other health care workers who had been convicted of misdemeanor charges. Each had been sentenced to three months in prison and payment of 200 dinars ($530).
Bahrain rights group wins Norwegian award (dailystar.com.lb)
In May of 2013, Maryam al-Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, described in New York the repression of human rights defenders and general disrespect for individual rights (see our report on her talk at concernedscientists.org). GOOD NEWS: In September 2013, the Center, whose founder and director are both jailed, won Norway’s Rafto Prize for its fight against repression.
We urged President Wang Enge of Peking University in August 2013 to cancel a planned faculty vote to oust Professor Xia Yeliang as a faculty member at Peking University solely because of his political opinions. Dr. Xia is a professor in the Department of Economics at Peking University and a visiting scholar at Stanford. He has been an outspoken advocate of free speech and constitutional government in China.
On February 2, 2013, Professor Ilham Tohti was denied permission to leave China to take up a position in the US as Visiting Scholar at Indiana University. Tohti is a professor at the Central Minorities University in Beijing and an advocate for Uighur minority rights. We understand that Professor Tohti and his daughter were prevented from boarding a plane to the US from Beijing Capital International Airport. While Tohti’s daughter was permitted to depart for the United States, Tohti was held in custody for 10 hours, before being sent back to his apartment without explanation. We invoked the right to travel under international covenants and especially their recognition of the benefits of international cooperation in science to urge China to lift restrictions on Tohti’s travel.
Alber Saber, a 27 year old computer science graduate of Cairo University and Thebes Academy and a Coptic Christian, was sentenced to three years in jail on December 12, 2012, for “blasphemy and contempt of religion.” Saber allegedly uploaded sections of the film “Innocence of Muslims,” a video that portrays the prophet Mohammed in a way that is offensive to Muslims. News reports also claim that Egyptian police, when called, failed to protect his home and family from an outraged mob. In January 2013, CCS joined Amnesty International in protesting Egypt’s failure to protect Saber’s freedom of religion. According to Saber’s family, other prisoners in jail assaulted Saber. His mother and sister had to flee their home. The court in Cairo allowed Saber to be released on bail pending his appeal. We learned that Saber subsequently fled Egypt in fear for his safety.
Iranian student awarded human-rights prize while in prison (blogs.nature.com)
In a public letter dated March 2013, Omid Kokabee, a University of Texas graduate student in optics currently imprisoned in Iran. stated that he was being persecuted for refusing to work on Iranian military projects, including the development of laser-based uranium enrichment technology that could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons. CCS advocacy for Kokabee started after his arrest in Iran in 2011. One of our latest letters on his behalf, in May 2013, we addressed the International Atomic Energy Agency, protesting the attempt of Iranian authorities to coerce Kokabee to participate in potentially illegal military activity and also to circumvent Iran’s treaty obligations under the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. to which Iran is a party and which forbids the development of nuclear weapons. GOOD NEWS: Kokabee been awarded the American Physical Society’s 2014 Andrei Sakharov Prize for “his courage in refusing to use his physics knowledge to work on projects that he deemed harmful to humanity, in the face of extreme physical and psychological pressure.”
In 2010, we wrote in grave concern for Professor Abdolreza Ghanbari who had completed a PhD in Persian language and literature and taught this subject. We understand that his only political activity was belonging to a trade union that had been dissolved in 2007. Ghanbari was sentenced to death on January 30, 2010 on charges of “enmity against God” for allegedly participating in protests on the holiday of Ashura in December 2009. The Tehran Appeals Court upheld Ghanbari’s death sentence in April 2010 and the Commission of Justice in Tehran rejected his request for pardon on February 28, 2012. GOOD NEWS: In May 2013, Amnesty International learned that Ghanbari’s death sentence was set aside. In September 2013 President Hassan Rouhani released Gahnbari’s lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights advocate who had been imprisoned and unable to defend him.
On June 22, 2013, Dr. Lev Ponomarev was severely beaten by private security guards who had been hired by bailiffs for the city of Moscow when he and his staff were violently evicted from his organization’s office “For Human Rights” during a dispute over the lease. Ponomarev worked and published for many years in elementary particle physics at the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow. He became involved in human rights and politics in the late 1980s, and has become one of the leading human rights figures in Russia. We urged President Putin in July 2013 to investigate the circumstances of this case and to thoroughly address the conduct of the local authorities, especially the use of violence that seems to be related to Ponomarev’s activities on behalf of human rights.
CCS wrote to Russian president Vladimir Putin in June 2013 in support of Yaroslav Belousov, a political science student who was arrested in June of 2012. According to press reports, Belousov was arrested while participating in an authorized protest demonstration. He has been in jail for a year and could be convicted of a sentence of up to 12 years. As reported in the New York Times, a video showed Belousov throwing a lemon at an officer, rather than rocks or asphalt pieces, as is being charged. We asked for a thorough investigation of these charges.
The Committee of Concerned Scientists wrote in May 2012 on behalf of Russian zoologist and environmental activist Dr. Suren Gazaryan and geologist Evgeny Vitishenko to protest criminal charges designed to retaliate for environmental inspections of government actions they claimed to violate Russian laws in the Sochi area (the proposed site of the winter Olympics). Those charges resulted in a three-year suspended sentence for Gazaryan. In August 2012, Gazaryan was accused of another charge resulting from an altercation during an environmental inspection: attempted murder of a security guard. Sources in Russia believe that the charge was fabricated to prevent further inspections by Gazaryan and other environmentalists, CCS wrote in a June 2013 letter to federal and regional authorities asking for their review. We understand that Gazaryan has fled the Russian Federation to avoid further unjust prosecution.
GOOD NEWS: We welcomed the news that Dr. Halil Kemal Gürüz, a chemical engineer, education administrator and former professor and university rector, was allowed to go home pending his appeal from the thirteen years and eleven month sentence imposed on him by a criminal court in Turkey on August 5, 2013. In a new trial on September 5 on another charge, an Ankara court pending trial placed Gürüz on probation. Although it seems that he is not entirely free from all prosecution, Guruz is no longer imprisoned, as he had been since June of 2012. CCS had been advocating for Gürüz since his arrest.
GOOD NEWS: Dr. Mehmet Haberal was released on August 5. 2013 as having served his sentence of twelve years and six months. Haberal, the rector of Baskent University in Ankara, who pioneered transplant surgery in Turkey had been detained for almost four years. CCS repeatedly wrote to Turkish authorities requesting their release on bail. Haberal has angina, cardiac arrhythmia, and severe anxiety and depression. Haberal and other academics were accused of participation in an attempted 2007 coup against the Islamic-leaning elected government. In August 2013, the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies called on Turkey to drop all charges against scientists, engineers and doctors accused of terrorism related crimes in Turkey as having no basis.
According to a July 16, 2013 article in the New York Times, the Istanbul Bar Association claims that Istanbul police, citing terrorism laws, issued a temporary order withholding legal assistance to detainees after recent protest. One of the students who had participated in the protests, Ismail Cem Bakir, a computer student at Istanbul Technical University, was arrested in July. According to his sister, the police threatened Bakir’s lawyer, who had come over to assist the family, confirming the Bar Association’s complaint. CCS wrote to protest this denial of due process. GOOD NEWS: Advisory Board member Dr. Jack Minker publicized Bakir’s case in the Communications of the Association for Computer Machinery and by bringing up the case at a conference in Istanbul. A colleague at the conference found out that, unlike some other protesters, Bakir was released after four days in jail.
Professor Pınar Selek is a writer and scholar whose research and writing focuses on women in disadvantaged or marginalized groups, including street children, prostitutes, transgendered individuals, and Kurdish communities. She was accused of acting as an accomplice in a 1998 explosion at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar due to her alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey as a terrorist organization. We wrote to protest Selek’s prosecution that appeared to be based on non-violent activities and associations made in the course of her academic research. After being detained in an Istanbul prison for more than two years and enduring torture, she was released following forensic testing that determined the blast was likely caused by a gas leak. Her prosecution continued, however, even though she was tried and acquitted of all charges on three occasions. She eventually fled to France to avoid further prosecution. In November 2012, the Istanbul 12th Heavy Criminal Court reviewed the case for a fourth time and on January 24, 2013, sentenced her in absentia to aggravated life imprisonment.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Dr Cyril Karabus, a former professor of pediatrics and eminent South African pediatrician and oncologist, was arrested on August 18, 2012 while in transit in Dubai from Canada to South Africa. He was charged with the death of a child on whom he operated ten years earlier at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center in Abu Dhabi. The pediatric cancer patient Karabus treated later died of leukemia. Although an initial conviction of Karabus on manslaughter charges about which he was never notified, had been overturned, he was tried again on the same charges. We strongly urged UAR authorities to remedy this evident miscarriage of justice. GOOD NEWS: On Oct. 11, 2013, Karabus who is 78 years old and depends on a pacemaker for his heart was released on bail pending trial. On May 2013, he was finally acquitted and allowed to go home.
Although CCS was unable to endow a CCS Human Rights Prize, as proposed at the 2012 Annual Meeting, we were able to make several grants to individuals in recognition of their work for human rights. Dr. Joseph Sucher, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Maryland, gave CCS a grant of $1,000 earmarked for Dr. Abdul Jalil Al-Singace’s family in Bahrain. Out of other CCS funds, we provided: $1,000 to Dr. Boris Altshuler, of the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Science in recognition of his work with the organization “Rights of the Child;” $500 to Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese lawyer who had defended the human rights of disabled people and women in China, to assist with his asylum stay in New York; and $500 to the biennial Malta Conferences that promote peaceful scientific collaboration between 15 countries in the Middle East.