With attention riveted on past and threatened acts of terrorism, it is vital that human rights violations not be obscured. Attuned to this need, CCS proudly reports that this year it took up the cudgels for victimized scientists, physicians, engineers and their students in 21 countries, spanning five continents, contributing to relief and the rebuilding of lives and careers.
In all, 2002 was a busy and productive year for CCS. In fact, although not all our efforts detailed below have borne fruit as yet, we look to the realization of positive developments in the year ahead.
Clearly, CCS has made and continues to make a substantial difference in the lives of many colleagues and their students. For this, special thanks are due our three co-chairs, Joel Lebowitz, Paul Plotz and Walter Reich, who are ever on call, lending their wisdom, talents and unflagging devotion to protecting and advancing the human rights of colleagues wherever they may be. It is an honor to work with them.
The historian Dr. Xu Zerong, a past member of the Provincial Academy of Social Sciences and of Zhongshan University, co-founder of the Chinese Social Sciences Quarterly and researcher for the Xinhua News Agency, was detained in June of 2000 and ultimately charged with illegal publishing and leaking state secrets. It appeared that the charges were drawn from his earlier Ph.D. dissertation for Oxford University on Chinese military intervention in the Korean War. Aside from the illegality of his arrest, as it appears that Dr. Xu was acting well within his internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression, Dr. Xu was also held without charges for a year and a half. He was also denied any family visits during and after this lengthy pre-trial detention, and finally sentenced to 13 years in prison. Our message to the Chinese authorities urged his immediate release and, failing that, access to his family while awaiting the results of the legal appeal. The imminent retirement of Chinese president Jiang Zemin later provided another opportunity to write and to ask for clemency for Dr. Xu.
On word that a psychology student at Beijing Normal University, Liu Di, was being detained at an unknown location, we wrote to the competent authorities decrying her treatment. Citing reports that she was imprisoned in retaliation for her Internet posting of material protesting another arrest, that of the computer engineer Huang Qi, we termed such action a stark violation of internationally accepted human rights standards. We urged assurance of her physical safety, and an end to her incommunicado detention allowing her access to family and legal counsel.
A petition, spearheaded by CCS and signed by 830 individuals affiliated with the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society as well as our group, was sent to highly placed authorities. It appealed on behalf of nine scientists and students imprisoned on varying charges associated with the nonviolent expression of their beliefs. We initiated, researched, and solicited the co-sponsorship of the above-cited scientific bodies for this important petition.
Dr. Salai Than Tun, arrested in Rangoon as he staged a one-man protest calling for democratic elections, was the subject of an appeal early in the year. He is a distinguished professor of entomology and agronomy, targeted by the government in part because of his establishment of an agricultural training program called the Myanmar Integrated Rural Development Association (MIRDA). This program, because of its support by foreign groups, has come under suspicion by the Myanmar government. We asked in particular that Dr. Salai be given access to his family and lawyer, which he had been denied, and that he be protected from torture while in the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. When he was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a of seven-year term, we again protested his illegal and unmerited punishment for exercising his internationally-recognized right to freedom of expression and association.
On learning that a young zoologist, Maldeni Kamkanamlage Piyratne, was beaten to death by the police for unknown reasons, we called upon the authorities to investigate the case and to prevent similar instances of police brutality in the future.
We decried the imprisonment of two men, one, Dr. Mohiuddin Alamgir, an eminent economist and cabinet member for the previous government, and the second, Mr. Bahauddin Nasim, private secretary to the head of the opposition party. The legality of their arrests was a question for the courts, but meanwhile they remained indefinitely in police custody while their cases wound through the Bangladeshi court system. That Dr. Alamgir and Mr. Nasim not only were cruelly tortured by the police but also were refused competent and independent medical care made our call for their prompt release all the more necessary. Recently, Dr. Alamgir was released after six months’ imprisonment in response to the High Court’s repeated rulings that his arrest and detention for participating in demonstrations was illegal.
Two human-rights workers, Elena Urlaeva, a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, and Larissa Vdovina, were held at a psychiatric hospital in Tashkent against their will, in retaliation for joining a peaceful demonstration at the Ministry of Justice building. Six others were arrested at the same time, but released immediately. Ms. Urlaeva and Ms. Vdovina, however, were sent to the psychiatric facility for forcible drug treatment. Shocked at this perversion of the beneficent purposes of a hospital in the service of repressive political goals and at the use of compulsory medication as a means of punishment, we urged the authorities to release these two women and to prevent any such further abuse.
As a result of the European call for a boycott of Israeli academics, an Egyptian-born editor and owner of two academic journals, Mona Baker, demanded the resignation of two Israeli consulting editors from her journals. When these two, Dr. Miriam Schlesinger and Dr. Gideon Toury, refused, they were summarily fired. As part of the ensuing hubbub, we were among the first of many to call upon the editors of those journals to uphold their Publication Details to publish matter “not restricted in scope to any particular school of thought or academic group,” deploring this action as a direct violation of all academic and human rights standards.
The offices of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) located in Diyarbakir were the locus for a number of problems. The Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims there, sited very close to the areas of conflict with Kurds and therefore receiving many patients from that conflict, was raided in September of 2001 for its staff files. The information in those files, as feared, was subsequently employed for purposes of intimidation. For example, Drs. Recai Aldemir and M. Emin Yuksel were transferred away from the Diyarbakir Center, preventing them from continuing their important work there. Understandably intimidated, patients have been dissuaded from going to the center. And in March the legal representative of the HRFT was to be tried on charges of improperly establishing the Diyarbakir center. The charges were baseless, as had been determined by the courts in similar cases. We twice called upon the Turkish government to end the harassment and to safeguard the work of this organization.
In a follow-up to our individual actions, we sent a letter with more than 500 signatures from the scientific community to the competent authorities.
As in 2001, we protested the detainment of Dr. Igor Sutyagin, accused of espionage and high treason. He had been imprisoned since October 1999 and a decision of the Kaluga Regional court to reopen the investigation of his case promised further delay in releasing him. Considering the inability of prosecutors to demonstrate Dr. Sutyagin’s access to any classified sources, we requested that, at the very least, he be released from detention before the trial, and that if the trial exonerated him, he be freed immediately.
Several months later, we wrote yet again, after the Supreme Court upheld the above-mentioned court decision and denied the early release we requested. As Dr. Sutyagin’s research was based, not upon secret documents, but upon material freely available in the open Russian press, it was clear that the question of spying was ill founded. That his imprisonment–which at this point had lasted for two and a half years–was severely affecting Dr. Sutyagin’s health made our letter all the more urgent.
When Dr. Sutyagin’s case was transferred from the Kaluga Regional Court–which had earlier ruled that the prosecution had presented insufficient evidence to convict Dr. Sutyagin–to the central department of the Federal Security Service (FSB), we again wrote and protested that the transfer would result in undue political pressure on the court to convict.
Follow-up on another case of a scientist imprisoned and in failing health that surfaced last year involved Valentin Danilov. Dr. Danilov, an eminent cosmic physicist, had attempted to sell research materials to a Chinese import-export company. Although these materials had long been declassified and available openly for years, he was arrested in February of last year. A massive heart attack while in detention and his subsequent physical deterioration spurred our letter asking for his release on humanitarian grounds. He was released recently by order of the Krasnoyarsk City Court. However, this does not preclude the possibility that the FSB may yet prevail and bring him to trial at a higher court. Danilov attributes his release to unrelenting pressure from foreign colleagues.
In addition, we wrote the competent authorities on behalf of both men, with more than 500 endorsing signatures from members of the academic and scientific communities.
Dr. Yury Bandazhevsky was arrested in 1999 and in 2001 he was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for accepting bribes from candidates for admission to the Gomel Medical Institute, which he headed. On both occasions, CCS worked on his behalf. The evidence against him was spurious; among other items, 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. Perversely, the court rejected the retraction and entered the original accusation as evidence. It appeared clear that the conviction was provoked by Dr. Bandazhevsky’s scientific work, which criticized governmental programs related to the impact of the radioactive fallout of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and which failed effectively to address the health of people living in the surrounding contaminated area. And thus, when we learned this year that Dr. Bandazhevsky’s health had deteriorated drastically, we called for a presidential pardon.
We appealed on behalf of Dr. Mohammad Hossien Rafiee, professor of chemistry at Tehran University, who had been arrested with other opposition members for expressing his political views, and urged that he and his colleagues be given a fair and open trial, hitherto denied them.
After three years in detention, Manuchehr Mohammadi, the Secretary General of the National Alliance of Iran’s Students and Alumni was transferred from a relatively safe prison for political prisoners to a prison for dangerous criminals. Since it was Mr. Mohammadi’s participation in pro-democracy demonstrations at Tehran University in July of 1999–clearly within the bounds of the internationally-recognized right to freedom of expression–that resulted in his imprisonment, we called upon the Iranian authorities to release him immediately. But since Mr. Mohammadi’s current imprisonment in the city of Ghaemshahr’s criminal prison put his life in imminent and grave peril, we requested that at the very least he be returned to his previous prison.
Two letters, one to Chairman Arafat and one to Prime Minister Sharon, called on each for an end to attacks on health professionals and, indeed, to attacks on unarmed civilians as well. The placement of weapons in Red Crescent ambulances and their use as firing platforms, as transport for gunmen, and as concealment for suicide/homicide bombers is in itself a gross violation of the principles of medical neutrality and has provided cause for Israeli attacks on such ambulances. The IDF obstruction of the delivery of medical supplies, detention of medical workers, and delaying of wounded individuals from reaching medical care, also disregards international standards. We called for an end to both. We also expressed our satisfaction at the exemplary behavior of many of the Israeli and Palestinian medical workers in their care for the wounded without regard for political divisions.
A call by European scholars to suspend European-Israeli academic and cultural ties prompted us to issue a statement decrying this reprehensible attempt to make scientific scholarship a pawn in a politically-motivated game. Not only did we send out a mass mailing of our statement but we also posted it on our Web site for public perusal. In addition, we signed on to a statement sent out by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) condemning the boycott.
The generally left-leaning Haifa University proposed subjecting one of its own post-Zionist faculty, Senior Lecturer Dr. Ilan Pappe, to a trial for libeling other professors, among other charges. It was thought that this trial was but a pretext to dismiss Dr. Pappe for having earlier supported his own graduate student whose M.A. thesis was judged in a court of law to have been an ideologically-driven fabrication based on inexcusably leading questions. We sent the dean of the university a letter of inquiry about the inherent possibility of an infringement of academic freedom. He replied in full that the charges were related to libel, not to questions of political freedom. He also indicated that some of the charges were indeed of a criminal nature and that therefore they would be referred to the police. A while later, we wrote again in search of further details of the developing case and were informed that matters were still under consideration.
An Israeli raid of the Jerusalem offices of the PLO representative Sari Nusseibeh, a well-known moderate Palestinian, drew us to address the Israeli government. We urged that inasmuch as Mr. Nusseibeh also acts as the president of Al-Quds University and the offices are those of the university as well, the functioning of the University itself not be in any way affected by the office closure.
Jonathan Ben-Artzi, a young physics and mathematics student at Hebrew University, having failed in his attempt to be designated a conscientious objector by the Commission dealing with such matters and having lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, served several 28-day prison sentences, and at the date of this writing, remains imprisoned. We protested this decision to the Minister of Defense and received the less-than-satisfactory response that as Mr. Ben-Artzi’s request had been considered and denied, he was therefore obligated to enlist in the army and had been sentenced to prison for a disciplinary offence. In December, Mr. Ben-Artzi was sentenced to his sixth prison term, this time for 35 days, for his continuing refusal to obey the induction order.
Early in the year we hailed the overturning of the conviction and release from prison of Dr. Saadeddin Ibrahim, who had been arrested on spurious charges in retaliation for his activities as founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, which monitors human rights as well as the conduct of elections. His ill health, compounded by the series of strokes he suffered while in detention, made his release especially welcome. But since there were charges still pending, we voiced our hope that he be completely exonerated and that such charges against him be dropped.
However, Dr. Ibrahim’s retrial, which began on April 27 was marred by the denial to his defense team of access to the Ibn Khaldun center, where important supporting evidence was expected to be found. We asked again that the charges against Dr. Ibrahim be dropped, as no evidence was presented of any misuse of funds–funds that had been provided by the European Union to produce a documentary film on Egyptian voting practices. However, Dr. Ibrahim was sentenced in July to seven years in prison for embezzlement, receiving foreign funds without authorization, and harming Egypt’s reputation. Sentences of varying lesser lengths were also meted out to 27 of his colleagues at the Khaldun Center.
In what promises to be the final chapter of Dr. Ibrahim’s two-and-a-half year ordeal, the Court of Cassation in early December annulled the seven-year sentence meted out twice by the Supreme State Security Court and declared that it itself would hear the case on January 7, 2003. Dr. Ibrahim, still in fragile health, was released from prison awaiting this hearing. This decision raises hopes that Professor Ibrahim and his colleagues will be cleared of all charges stemming from his research and outspoken criticism of government policies.
We were alarmed by the recent surge in violence against student activists in the regional state of Oromiya. It appears that they are suffering from an alleged association with a rebel group called the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which has been fighting the state for greater independence for Oromos. In late March of this year, high-school students from several towns in Oromiya were shot at by the police while demonstrating peacefully and at least two were killed. In May, nearly 200 students in Addis Ababa were arrested after a non-violent march and a number of them remained in jail. We wrote urging the Ethiopian authorities to investigate these crimes and, in the future, to desist from allowing the police to fire upon peaceful student demonstrations.
In a more pleasant vein, former president of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association and indefatigable human-rights worker, Dr. Taye Wolde-Semayat, on whose behalf we intervened repeatedly over the past four years, was released early from serving a fifteen-year sentence.
We protested the threats to two Kenyan physicians of being stripped of their official registration for having concluded that a man detained by the police had died from the effects of torture. Dr. Moses Njue and Dr. Andrew K. Gachie had conducted the autopsy on the body of Paul Kimani Wambiru and determined that the cause of death was torture and beating with blunt objects. Following this testimony five policemen were charged with murder and so requested a new autopsy. The chief government pathologist performed the autopsy and asserted that Mr. Wambiru had died of natural causes. A third autopsy confirmed the torture charge. Dr. Njue was fired from his position as central provincial pathologist and both doctors were threatened with de-registration. In response we called on the Kenyan government to protect the physicians and to investigate the charges of torture and murder thoroughly. And indeed, in late July of this year, the Kenyan Ministry of Health confirmed in written statements that Drs. Njue and Gachie would not be de-registered or transferred from their positions.
Events at the College of Technological Science in Omdurman at the beginning of the year were alarming. Five students who participated in a symposium on democracy held last year were suspended. In addition, a computer science student was also suspended because she had formed a campus chapter of Sudanese Victims of Torture Group (SVTG) and organized a symposium on International Human Rights Day. Responding to this repression of human rights advocates, we asked the president of the Sudan to require the reinstatement of these students and to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Forensic scientists working on exhuming the bodies of victims of the counter-insurgency campaign of the early 1980’s came under attack this year. Death threats, arson and harassment of 11 of these workers led the government to post police guards around two groups, the Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) and the Center of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences (CAFCA). The following month, we learned that members of yet another group, the Association for the Integral Development of Victims of Violence in the Verapaces Maya Achi (ADIVIMA), whose exhumations have uncovered 706 bodies to date, were suffering similar threats and telephone calls. Although the government is investigating these incidents, it appears that many of those potentially implicated in these past murders of Guatemalan citizens are still to be found in the ranks of the government and are a danger to those seeking to bring them to justice. Accordingly, we wrote twice, urging the protection of these forensic workers and a thorough investigation of the threats against them.
In July, the main offices of the National Coordinator of Human Rights (Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala, CONADEHGUA) were robbed, and witness testimony implicated the military intelligence agency in the break-in. We urged a full accounting and investigation of this crime, which appeared to be part of the wave of intimidation and harassment assaulting human-rights workers.
The trial of three senior army officers charged with ordering the 1990 murder of Myrna Mack, the Guatemalan anthropologist who exposed the government’s internal displacement of indigenous populations, ended with a partial conviction after twelve long years. The assistant director of Guatemala’s presidential guard was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but two others were acquitted.
We called on the Honduran government to protect Dr. Leo Valladares Lanza, the National Commissioner for Human Rights, who had received death threats. In the past he had been charged by the Supreme Court with engaging in “corruption, extortion and blackmail”–charges which were later dropped, but which served their purpose of harassment and intimidation. The activities which led to these retaliatory actions by the government were those of his Commission, which released a number of reports detailing the rampant corruption both in the judiciary and in the context of relations between the government and the media. We later wrote again on Dr. Lanza’s behalf, as well as that of other human-rights activists, with more than 500 endorsements from the scientific community.
Dr. Deborah Diniz, an award-winning anthropologist and bioethicist, was fired from her professorship at Catholic University in Brasilia. As this was done in apparent retaliation for Dr. Diniz’s views on abortion as expressed in her teaching and in the book she recently published on abortion law in Brazil, we wrote in protest to the Brazilian authorities, deploring this blatant impairment of academic freedom.
The plight of Lori Berenson, an American citizen still imprisoned in Peru after six years of unceasing appeals, spurred an entreaty to president Bush to press for her release on the occasion of his visit to Peru. We also applied to the president of Peru to grant her a pardon, taking into consideration the violations of due process in the course of Ms. Berenson’s most recent trial including the overwhelming reliance on tainted evidence from her first trial, but also her damaged health.
When the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights upheld its earlier decision that the anti-terrorism laws under which Ms. Berenson was convicted were in fact in violation of international standards of human rights, we wrote yet again to President Toledo to ask him for clemency on her behalf and to ask him to take steps to rescind the laws themselves. A letter to President Bush paralleled our effort with President Toledo.
Two years after her release from prison, the economist Marta Beatriz Roque Cabellos still suffers from governmental harassment, abuse and humiliation, along with her colleagues at Working Group for the Analysis of the Cuban Socio-Economic Situation. Our distress at her situation–detained, interrogated, strip-searched–impelled us to call upon President Castro to order an immediate end to her persecution.
When we learned that the physician and human rights activist Oscar E. Biscet, released after serving a three-year prison sentence, was rearrested after only a month of freedom, we vented our distress in a message to President Castro. Dr. Biscet was arrested with 16 others while meeting, quite peacefully, at a private home. Thirteen were released but three along with Dr. Biscet remained behind bars under harsh conditions, with formal charges withheld. We requested that all be released promptly or, at the very least, that charges be brought so that they might be answered legally.
The economist Vladimiro Roca Antunez, another member of this group, jailed since July 1997, was released in May 2002–two months prior to the expiration of his sentence.
Addressing a more general problem, we wrote to express our concern at the withholding of permits to leave the country from doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who wish to join their families living outside Cuba.
Sami A. Al-Arian, professor of computer science at the University of South Florida, came under wide attack after an interviewer on television accused him of links with terrorists and terrorist organizations. Dr. Al-Arian’s history of rabid Palestinian activism and his calls for, “Death to Israel!” in addition to the security problems associated with the threats he received after the TV interview, led the Board of the University to vote overwhelmingly to dismiss him. We wrote a letter of inquiry to the president of the university, asking if Dr. Al-Arian was being penalized only for expressing his personal opinion, which, however vile, should be protected by his constitutional right to free speech. She responded with assurances of her commitment “to maintaining a safe environment for learning…and the exercise of academic freedom and freedom of expression.”
In a similar case, an academic conference entitled “Women and War, Peace and Revolution,” drew heavy criticism for its inclusion of controversial Israeli scholar, Ruchama Morton, founder and president of Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights, a longtime pro-Palestinian activist. Funding for the conference was subsequently withheld by the host university, SUNY-New Paltz. News reports were not clear as to whether the university was preventing the conference from being held at all, but responding to our letter of inquiry the dean assured us that alternate funding had been found and the conference was indeed to be held.