Against the backdrop of the tragic events of September 11 and its aftermath, the importance of the work of the Committee of Concerned Scientists has never been clearer. Given the real possibility that the plight of persecuted colleagues may be obscured during this time of anxiety, we are acutely aware of the need for our continued work. In 2001 we acted on their behalf in 19 countries, as detailed in the links below.
A review of CCS’s busy year confirms that our many activities, including the provision of material aid and subscriptions to professional literature to colleagues in need, were made possible by a coordinated team effort sparked by our co-chairs, Joel Lebowitz, Paul Plotz and Walter Reich. Their vigilance, energy and extraordinary commitment are at the heart of our enterprise. Thanks to them CCS has achieved much this year.
In numerous instances CCS intervened to protest a crackdown on intellectuals accused of endangering China’s national security. Not only has the crackdown victimized a number of scholars but it has also engendered unease among Chinese-born scholars concerning planned visits to their homeland on scholarly exchanges.
We decried the imprisonment of nuclear weapons expert Hua Di. He received a 10-year sentence purportedly for compromising state secrets; however the charge related to his research based on information in publicly available documents with the approval of Chinese authorities. Our message to high level authorities urged favorable action on his pending appeal and his immediate release on humanitarian grounds to allow for a resumption of chemotherapy he was undergoing prior to his arrest.
The targeting of Chinese-born academics who are American citizens or permanent United States residents began with the arrest of Dr. Gao Zhan, a sociology researcher at American University in Washington, D.C. She, her husband and five-year-old son had been visiting family in China when they were arrested as they were about to leave. We protested her incommunicado detention along with her husband’s and son’s 26 days’ detentions in separate facilities. Subsequently she was tried, dealt a 10-year sentence for allegedly spying for Taiwan, and promptly released on medical parole. She has returned to American soil.
Yet another victim of this crackdown was a naturalized American citizen, Dr. Li Shaomin. As a lecturer on marketing at the City University of Hong Kong, he had frequently visited Mainland China without incident in connection with his work. But in February he was arrested. CCS promptly intervened, asking for clarification of the charges and urging that he be treated in accordance with internationally accepted norms of jurisprudence. Tried after more than four months’ detention, Dr. Li was convicted of spying for Taiwan and expelled from China. His release appeared to be tied to China’s selection as the site for the 2008 summer Olympics. Hailing word of his release, we wrote to the authorities pressing them for a repeat performance in the case Gao Zhan, which was soon heeded. Once again our efforts proved successful.
The capstone of these interventions took the form of a petition we circulated with the help of the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Physical Society and the American Mathematical Society. Garnering more than 900 endorsements, the petition communicated to Chinese authorities intense distress over the ongoing oppression of 13 named colleagues and called for their release from prison.
On the heels of rumors about an AIDS crisis in China, we learned that Dr. Gao Yaojie, a retired gynecologist and renowned AIDS fighter, was denied permission to journey to the U.S. to accept an award. The Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights of the Global Health Council was to have been bestowed in recognition of her efforts to help farmers in Henan Province who were infected with H.I.V. In addition to dispensing medical care to the afflicted, she had used her pension and donations to raise awareness on how to cope with the epidemic. Labeling the refusal to permit her travel to receive her honor a “shame,” we urged the authorities not to oppose her receiving the $20,000 cash prize. At the same time we voiced gratification at the reported deployment of an inspection team to Henan and the deputizing of a newly appointed health officer to address the AIDS problem. We have since learned that a new government-subsidized AIDS clinic has been opened there to address soaring numbers of H.I.V. cases.
Yet another cause for concern was the arrest of the 30-year-old Internet engineer, Yang Zili, by State Security Police. His summary arrest and incommunicado detention along with three others appears to be part of an official campaign to curb Internet use and to intimidate exponents of free expression. We appealed for the four’s prompt release and a halt to incursions on the free exchange of ideas.
Also related to curbs on Internet use was the shutting down of an electronic bulletin board that had operated without official oversight for five years at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province. It had served as an open vehicle for 30,000 registered users to discuss politics and diverse aspects of student life. In response to protests at its closure, a university official announced that the site eventually would be operational but with the added requirement that users register their full names and identification numbers. CCS bemoaned this conditional use of the bulletin board, urging restoration of the site without restrictions imposed from above in violation of academic freedom.
Two years ago we welcomed the endocrinologist Nguyen Dan Que’s release from eight years’ imprisonment under an extremely severe regime that took a heavy toll on his health. However, we subsequently learned that the government never returned his personal documents, including his identification card and medical license needed to enable his opening a medical clinic to treat the poor. Moreover, we were advised that public security police were harassing him and his family. One egregious instance was the subjection of Dr. Que’s wife to a public denouncement of her husband for his outspoken protests against human rights violations. Our letter to the authorities put them on notice that we along with many others were monitoring Vietnam’s conduct, and urged an immediate halt to Dr. Que’s harassment.
The Malaysian government launched a campaign against student advocates of social and political reform this year, arresting of two students who had engaged in activities opposing the Internal Security Act, which allows for prolonged incommunicado detentions of those who “threaten national security.” In reaction, CCS urged authorities to forestall maltreatment of the jailed students and asked for their early release. We also deplored disciplinary action taken against students at several universities, including one student’s expulsion, and called for a halt to detentions without trial and to the penalizing of those who exercise their right to peaceful freedom of expression and assembly.
The two jailed students were soon released, and the Malaysian Human Rights Commission announced that it was launching an investigation into the harsh repression of all students involved.
We pressed for the release of the physician Daw May Win Myint, the marine biologist Daw San San, the medical officer Daw Shwe Bo, and the history teacher Ma Khin Khin Leh – all imprisoned under harsh conditions for their nonviolent political activities. Six hundred scientists and academics endorsed this message to governmental authorities.
CCS revisited the case of Igor Sutyagin, chief of the section on military technology research at the Institute of USA and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Sutyagin was charged last year with espionage and treason by the Federal Security Services (FSB). At that time we argued that the project he had conducted with the participation of Russia’s Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs and with funding from the Canadian Department of Defense, was not based on classified information. In fact, he had never had access to such information. Moreover, the project involved an examination of military-civilian relations in 12 post-Communist countries and the same questions were posed without hindrance by their security agencies in interviews conducted in all of them. Seeking a speedy and fair trial we again wrote, reiterating these arguments concerning Dr. Sutyagin’s legitimate scientific work and pointing to his deteriorating health over 16 months’ pre-trial detention.
Upon learning that his trial was postponed without explanation we reissued our call for an end to his prosecution. We pointed out as well that access to his lawyers had been restricted during court appearances and that he was denied vitamins and medication needed to cope with his deteriorating health during 18 months’ pre-trial detention. On reports of irregularities in the conduct of the prosecution we wrote again, reiterating our call for an end to his prosecution and urging a fair trial in compliance with international standards.
We also acted on the case of Dr. Valentin Danilov, an expert on cosmic physics at Krasnoyarsk Technical University. Danilov was accused by the FSB of selling research materials to a Chinese import-export company, thus undermining Russia’s security. We urged that the charge be aired promptly in open hearings in light of reliably reported contradictory evidence that the research in question had been declassified in 1992 and had been available in the open scientific literature for years. We further argued that Dr. Danilov was representing the university in contracting with the Chinese company and that Russian authorities did not raise objections at the signing nor for six months after his arrest.
No response was forthcoming. Subsequently, on word that Danilov had been placed in intensive care in a city hospital with symptoms of a heart attack and was chained to his bed under guard, we appealed for his release on humanitarian grounds.
On word of his sentencing to eight years’ imprisonment, we pressed for a presidential pardon for Professor Yuri Bandazhevsky. Bandazhevsky had been convicted on the basis of dubious evidence that he had accepted bribes from candidates for admission to the Gomel Medical Institute, which he headed.
Following his arrest in 1999, CCS had urged a speedy, fair trial. But his trial fell short of international standards of jurisprudence. In fact, the prosecution failed to offer concrete credible evidence that Professor Bandazhevsky had been bribed. The co-defendant who had leveled this accusation retracted it both during further police interrogation and at the trial, as well as in an open letter to the president of Belarus. Yet the court rejected his retraction and entered his original accusatory statement as evidence. In addition, the testimony of a former colleague who actually admitted to accepting bribes was entered as evidence against Bandazhevsky on her unsubstantiated claim that she took them on his behalf. Moreover, exhaustive searches of his home, garage and workplace had failed to uncover an abundance of material possessions and his modest lifestyle belied illicit gain on his part.
According to Bandazhevsky, his conviction on this spurious charge was provoked by the nature of his scientific work, which focused on the impact of the radioactive fallout of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster on the health of people living in the surrounding contaminated area. His findings led to his publishing a report on the proliferation of diseases among them, including criticism of governmental programs in progress that failed to address this serious problem effectively.
An alarming development in Turkey this past year captured our attention. Although the Ministry of Justice had issued a ban in January 1999 against virginity examinations except in cases of sexual assault, in July 2001 the Ministry of Health issued a new code of conduct that mandates such testing for nursing and midwifery students suspected of being sexually active. In addition, a Statute for Awards and Discipline in the High School Education Institutions states that “proof of un-chastity” is valid cause for expulsion of females from the formal educational system. Deeply troubled by these incursions on the human rights of women, we wrote to governmental authorities concerned, pointing to violations inherent in these regulations of several international human rights instruments to which Turkey is a State Party. We called on the ministers concerned to return to implementing the ban on virginity examinations as specified by the Ministry of Justice two and a half years earlier.
Turning to another front, CCS wrote several competent authorities, deploring a police raid on the Diyarbakir office of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT). We stressed that the confiscation of its patient records, including the names of the physicians who treated them, was a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of medical ethics and of several United Nations conventions to which Turkey is a State party. We pointed to the Diyarbakir office raid as the latest instance of targeting HRFT torture treatment centers for harassment over the past five years. We called for the prompt return of all records so that the center might resume its humanitarian work and appealed for assurances that neither patients nor those who minister to them would be maltreated. We were pleased to learn that the records were ultimately returned.
Sadly, this return to normalcy was short-lived. Within weeks legal procedures were launched to close the Diyarbakir center – an action that was likely to intimidate doctors and nurses from treating torture victims. Moreover, two staff physicians who are civil servants were banished to other districts, impairing the functioning of the center. Deploring these moves, CCS appealed to the higher echelons of government to remedy the situation and call a halt to the ongoing persecution of the HRFT, its treatment facilities and their personnel.
Having repeatedly addressed Iranian authorities decrying the arrest, imprisonment, mistreatment, torture and harsh sentences of student activists in Iran, we chided them once again concerning their abuse of yet another student leader. After his incommunicado detention for 160 days, Ali Afshari was paraded on Iranian State television, confessing to plotting the overthrow of the government. Noting that this “confession” by a young man obviously in poor health implied a presumption of guilt before trial, we urged that he be treated humanely and allowed prompt access to his family, legal counsel and appropriate medical care.
Concurrently we wrote in the name of some 600 scientists and academics, voicing concern for the well being of 21 named students jailed under harsh conditions for peacefully expressing their views.
Responding to the arrest and continuing detention of the physicist Hadi Hadizadeh Yazdi, highly respected among colleagues in the international physics community, we issued a strongly worded protest to high-level authorities. His detention, with his family kept in the dark at that time as to the reason why, prompted us to hark back to the string of detentions of academics, students and others attributed to their attempts to exercise their rights to freedom of expression. We stressed that this repression is likely to sully Iran’s longstanding reputation as a bastion of learning and scholarly achievement, and pressed for Professor Hadizadeh’s prompt release as a first step in repairing the damage already sustained. (We since learned that his membership in Nehzat e Azadi, a banned political party alleged to plan the overthrow of the government, occasioned his arrest along with some 40 – 50 others.) Nevertheless, he and five others linked to this banned Iran Freedom Movement were released on bail. A flurry of releases raises hopes that they may not be brought to trial. Meanwhile he has taken up his university physics teaching post.
We wrote to Israeli authorities, urging that they allow Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser, professor of botany at Bir Zeit University, to travel to the U.S. to deliver a keynote address at the Global Fund for Women’s Celebration of International Women’s Day. The authorities had conditioned the issuance of a visa on her confining the visit to one day and her immediate return to Israel. Our intervention on grounds that this restriction violated international agreements relating the free circulation of scientists proved fruitless: unwilling to comply with the restriction, Dr. Farhat-Naser did not appear at the International Women’s Day event.
Another case of hindrance of freedom of movement prompted CCS action on a different front. We wrote to the authorities in response to reports of ordered road closures that interfered with access to Bir Zeit University, expressing concern about the academic consequences of these closures and urging that everything possible be done to enable the full functioning of the university.
In quest of a resolution of a case we first acted on early last year, we wrote to Israel’s new prime minister, Ariel Sharon. We asked for his intercession in the case of Omar Daraghmeh, a Palestinian student of agronomy who has been kept from continuing his studies in Denmark. After completing a year of Danish-subsidized doctoral study in Copenhagen, he was arrested on his return to Israel for a visit, and detained for two months at a Shin Bet facility where he was reportedly maltreated. Ultimately standing trial without resolution on a charge of membership in Hamas, Daraghmeh prepared to return to Denmark armed with a ruling from the presiding military judge that postponed resumption of the trial until the summer and allowed for his departure. Nevertheless, he was barred from leaving despite intervention by the Danish Embassy and a statement issued by the Israeli Foreign Office, confirming his clearance to leave. At this juncture the Shin Bet proposed a deal whereby he could leave for two years – not less. Daraghmeh turned it down because it would have precluded his visiting his home on the West Bank between semesters and because he claimed Denmark would not allow him to study there for more than one year. Noting that in the face of this impasse he had returned to his job at the Palestinian Authority Department of Agriculture, we urged the then prime minister to rein in the Shin Bet. After two trial date postponements we again wrote to Prime Minister Barak, urging his intervention. This year’s letter to Prime Minister Sharon reminded him that there have been eight postponements and asked him to expedite matters.
Several CCS interventions on behalf of the sociologist Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and 27 others linked to his Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies culminated in our protest against the conduct of a trial that fell short of due process standards and resulted in a seven-year prison sentence for Ibrahim. (His colleagues received lesser sentences.) As a vocal critic of the government for its failure to promote democracy and an advocate of election monitoring, Dr. Ibrahim was convicted of “defaming Egypt.” We urged the authorities to confirm Egypt’s commitment to democracy by correcting this miscarriage of justice and giving his lawyers a fair opportunity to file their appeal. The defense’s mid-December appeal for a retrial met with a ruling delaying a verdict until mid-January without mention of the requested temporary suspension of sentence.
CCS gathered endorsements from 600 scientists and academics to a petition addressed to Ethiopian authorities. The petition protested the continuing imprisonment of Dr. Taye Woldesemayat on unsubstantiated charges of terrorism as well as the conditions of his detention that failed to comply with internationally accepted standards. This intervention is one of several dating back to 1996, when Dr. Taye, head of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association was tried for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.
We also interceded on behalf of students and academics who sustained killings, injuries and mass detentions (some 2,500) at the hands of security forces while peacefully demonstrating against violations of their academic freedom. The demonstrations had been sparked by the banning of student unions, the mandated ending of student participation in student government, and the attendant stationing of security forces on campus. As part of this official crackdown two professors, Dr. Mesfin Walde Mariam and Berhanu Nega, were arrested and charged with incitement in connection with a panel discussion they had convened to discuss “human rights, the nature of a university and academic freedom.” We called for the release of all detained students and human rights defenders, and an investigation of the security forces’ unbridled violent tactics. Most of the students were subsequently freed, and the jailed professors were released on bail pending trial.
CCS pressed for the immediate, unconditional release from incommunicado detention of Dr. Nageeb Nagmeldin el Toum, director of the Amal Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture. Security forces had arrested him and other staff members in a warrantless search of the center’s office, which culminated in the confiscation of office and medical equipment along with confidential patient files. The center was then closed. In urging Dr. Nagmeldin’s release, we also called for the reopening of the center. We subsequently hailed his release after 18 days’ detention and the promise made to return the confiscated materials to the center.
But several months later, in a resumption of the pattern of harassment and intimidation of members of the Amal Centre, another member, Faisal el Bagir Mohamed, was arrested and material was removed during the search of his home. Again we lodged a protest while reiterating our call for the long overdue reopening of the center and the return of all confiscated property. El Bagir was soon released, but the center remained shuttered.
Soon thereafter the Center was opened for business as usual, patient files were returned, and those arrested in the security forces crackdown were released.
After having protested last year the escalating eight-year harassment and ultimate dismissal of Moncef Marzouki, professor of community medicine at the University of Sousse, CCS was dismayed to learn that he was to stand trial for his outspoken human rights advocacy. We wrote, urging that this prosecution be dropped and if the trial were to continue, that he be accorded due process in compliance with international norms of jurisprudence. The trial continued, and Dr. Marzouki drew a one-year prison sentence. In response, we wrote again urging a reconsideration of the sentence and reiterating our earlier call for Tunisia to ensure his and other citizens’ rights to hold and peacefully express opinions critical of the government. Ultimately Dr. Marzouki’s sentence was formally suspended with the proviso that he would lose certain civil rights, including election to government positions.
Regrettably, the general situation of human rights defenders did not improve as witnessed by attacks at the hands of plainclothes police. Among the victims were Professors Khadija Cherif and Abdel Kader Ben Khemis, the journalist Sihem Bensidine, the former political prisoner Lassad Jouhri, and the lawyer Naziha Boudheb, who is associated with the National Council of Liberties in Tunisia. CCS reminded the authorities of their obligations under international human rights instruments to guard the freedom of expression and association of Tunisia’s citizens, noting that a step in the right direction would be the conduct of an investigation into these unprovoked attacks and the punishment of those found responsible.
CCS called for immediate redress in response to a brutal raid by Liberian security forces against university students who were peacefully rallying in defense of four independent journalists arrested and charged with espionage for publishing an article critical of the government. We urged the prompt release without harm from detention of all the victimized students and professors as well as the jailed journalists whose cause they had espoused. At the same time, we pressed for a formal investigation into the behavior of the security forces.
We called for the unconditional release of two imprisoned environment defenders: Adolfo Montiel Flores and Teodoro Cabrera. Their prosecution capped a campaign of harassment and threats of reprisal for their nonviolent protests against excessive logging. They had confessed under torture to charges of planting marijuana and possession of illegal firearms. In a letter to Mexico’s newly elected president, Vicente Fox, we urged his intervention to demonstrate his administration’s avowed commitment both to human rights and environmental protection. Upon receiving an official response apprising us of the conduct of an investigation into their harassment and the apprehension of those responsible, we reissued our call for the release of the environment defenders. Sadly, their sentences were upheld on appeal.
An alarming development followed. Digna Ochoa, one of Mexico’s most prominent human rights lawyers and counsel to these environmentalists, was murdered. For several years prior to this final heinous act she had been subjected to all manner of abuse, including death threats, kidnapping and beatings. This sparked another CCS letter to President Fox, urging that he become personally involved in an investigation of the murder to ensure that the perpetrators would be brought to justice swiftly without regard to whether they were members of the police or armed forces. Our message also expressed the hope that the just resolution of the murder case would lead to realization of his promised efforts to institute reforms, including the release of the two ecologists. Faced with mounting pressure from international human rights groups, he ordered their release to “show by our actions, my government’s commitment to the promotion and observance of human rights in our country.”
We sent a letter endorsed by 600 scientists and academics to Cuban authorities, reiterating distress at the continuing imprisonment of the physician Oscar Elias Biscet and the economist Vladimiro Roca Antunez, and citing it as an impediment to support of steps to improve bilateral relations. Our message also hailed the early release of the engineer/physicist Felix A. Bonne Carcases, the economist Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello and Rene Gomez Manzano as contributing to enhancing of Cuba’s image among scientists and other professionals who are concerned with human rights.
On word that Dr. Biscet’s conditions of incarceration had improved with the approach of the end of his three-year sentence, we seized the opportunity to ensure that he would indeed be released on, or preferably, before its expiration. We wrote the competent authorities, suggesting that his early release would earn Cuba much good will within the American scientific community. Then, to mark the second anniversary of the start of his sentence, we again wrote pressing for Biscet’s immediate release in deference to his deteriorating health and the nonviolent nature of his activities.
We revisited the case of Lori Berenson, former MIT student, tried for a second time. When a civilian court found her guilty of collaboration with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and sentenced her to 20 years’ imprisonment, we appealed to Peru’s president-elect to grant her clemency. We argued that such action would dovetail with his proposed reform program to improve the lives of all Peruvians, the very same motivation that prompted Berenson to work in Peru.
The arrest of Policarpo Emilio Mazo Mazo, a student leader at the Universidad Autonoma Latinamericana in Medillin after months of harassment, including physical attacks and death threats by paramilitary elements, prompted CCS letters to Colombia’s president, minister of the interior and attorney general. Our message voiced concern for Mazo Mazo’s well being after more than three weeks had passed without word on his whereabouts, and pointed to suspected complicity of government forces with the paramilitary in its stepped up repression of student activists and human rights advocates. We called for an immediate investigation to determine Mazo Mazo’s whereabouts and the reason for his arrest, for the severing of all connections between government security forces and the paramilitary, and for insuring the safety of all human rights activists.
In the face of unrelenting harassment over several months of the historian Matilde Leonor Gonzalez, including death threats and constant surveillance, we called for its immediate halt and the conduct of an investigation aimed at bringing those responsible to justice. Gonzales had researched and published her findings on new means employed by the military to maintain local power in San Bartolome Jocotenango in the El Quiche department in connection with her work at the Association for the Advancement of Social Sciences (AVANCSO). Her harassment appeared to be aimed at deterring her from engaging in politically charged research. Noting that in fact, it had forced her into hiding, we urged the government to take steps to assure her safety.