During 2008, the Committee of Concerned Scientists continued to advocate on behalf of over 40 scientists, academics, and their organizations in 15 countries. Our letters are usually addressed to the head of state of the country involved, as well as the ministries that may have jurisdiction over the case. Occasionally, we also contact the US embassy in the country in case or the US State Department, if we can hope for their assistance. The following summaries will give you an idea of the grave risks our colleagues are running in exercising their human rights, as well as of the few victories we have achieved on their behalf. Those are listed at the end of the report under “Good News.”
Wrote to follow up on our earlier letter that expressed deep concern about the death sentence imposed on twenty-three year old Sayed Perwez Kambakhsh, a journalism student from Balkh University, by a court in Mazar e Sharif for distributing an article that questioned why men are allowed to have four spouses in Islam while women may only have one. The trial reportedly took place behind closed doors and Kambakhsh had no legal representation. Balkh province’s deputy attorney general, Hafizullah Khaliqyar, warned other journalists that they too would be arrested if they attempted to support Kambakhsh. The death sentence, after being at first affirmed by the Afghan Senate, was overturned by the President and Senate. It was reported that upon being retried, Kambakhsh was sentenced to 20 years in prison for blasphemy and we protested again, as well as signing a petition on his behalf circulated by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
Wrote urging the Government to urgently investigate the whereabouts of Professor Ibni Oumar Mahamet Saleh, an active member of the world’s mathematical community, who was abducted from his home on February 3, 2008. Professor Saleh, a former minister and politician, has been an active member of the world’s mathematical community. He chaired the Department of Mathematics at the University of N‘Djamena, directed its Center of Scientific Research and was Rector of the University in 1990-91. He negotiated a collaboration between N’Djamena University and universities in France which enabled Chadian teachers to establish stable and fruitful contacts with European and African universities. Since February 3, 2008, when he was arrested, his whereabouts have not been known to his family or colleagues. Protests by French and American mathematical colleagues resulted no response from the Chadian government. Two other individuals who were arrested with Professor Saleh were released but believe him dead.
Wrote to urge the release of Zeng Hongling, formerly a teacher at the Southwest China University of Science and Technology in Mianyang, who was detained by police in Sichuan province on June 9. She was accused of “inciting subversion,” according to the Information Center for Human Rights, after highlighting corruption as a cause of poor school construction in an article on an overseas Chinese blog. Several local authorities punished discussion about the thousands of children who were crushed in schools during the May 12 earthquake even as nearby apartments and government offices survived the quakes.
Wrote to protest prison conditions for political prisoners, as described by He Depu, a dissident serving in Beijing No. 2 Prison, in a letter smuggled out by his family to the International Olympics Committee. He said that prison conditions for political prisoners have sharply deteriorated since the start of the Olympic Games. In particular: the food is very bad and prisoners are malnourished; sick prisoners are unable to gain access to quality medical treatment; prisoners have very few opportunities to go outdoors and breathe fresh air.
We wrote in concern about the arrest of Liu Xiaobo, in connection with the Charter ‘08 petition commemorating the anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Liu, a former philosophy professor at Renmin University in Beijing, was arrested after publication of an open letter to the government from hundreds of prominent Chinese intellectuals proposing extensive political reforms. Liu spent 20 months in jail for his support of the Tianamen Square student protests and in 1996, was sent to a labor camp for three years for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. Recently, he was detained as part of a crackdown on political dissidents before the Beijing Olympics. Political theorist and activist Zhang Zuhua, also a signatory, was arrested at the same time but was released after a lengthy interrogation, he told the Washington Post (see Good News.)
Wrote to strongly protest the arrest of human rights activist Hu Jia on December 27, 2007. Hu, who has peacefully disseminated news of public interest, was arrested on charges of subverting state power. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, and two-month old daughter Qiancy are under house arrest and unable to communicate with the outside world through telephone and Internet. Hu publicized the arrest of Yang Chunlin, the former factory worker who was part of an effort to help local farmers seek legal redress over confiscated land in connection with the 2008 Olympics. Hu’s detention is seen in China as a general crackdown on public criticism in the lead-up to the Olympics. (se Good News.)
Wrote on behalf of Cuban doctors, who are political prisoners serving sentences ranging from 10 to 25 years, all of whom suffer from very serious medical conditions. According to reports, they are held in shockingly inhumane conditions and none of them are getting the care they need. In 2007, we wrote on behalf of Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, who was malnourished, required surgery for a cyst on his kidney and whose family’s request for medical parole was not answered. Since then, we understand that he has lost weight to 48 kg. and suffers from pneumonia in the right lung and severe anemia. The other doctors and detention facilities are: Dr. Oscar Elias Bisset Gonzalez, (Combinado del Este Prison) suffers from hypertension, ulcer and a severe oral infection; Dr. Marcelo Cano Rodriguez, (Prison de Ariza, Cienfuegos) is held in darkness, his feet are severely infected: Dr. Luis Milan Fernandez (Psychiatric Ward, Prison of Boniato, Santiago de Cuba) shares a cell with violent mental patients although he has no history of mental or emotional problems himself; Dr. Ricardo Enrique Silva Gual (Aguadores Provincial Prison, Santiago de Cuba) was beaten in prison and suffers from glaucoma; Dr. Alfredo M. Pulido Lopez (Kilo 7 Prison, Comaguey) has cardiac arrhythmia, chronic bronchitis and gastritis and acute vision disorder.
We wrote, as we had before, to express our grave dismay at the prosecution of Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the eminent sociologist and advocate of civil society in Egypt, who was recently sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor for “harming the country’s reputation in the foreign press.” According to the Washington Post, Dr. Ibrahim was sentenced for writing an op-ed piece in the Post in 2007 discussing Egypt’s poor record on human rights. Twenty (20) other charges, some of which carry the death penalty, are pending, according to the Post. In his op-ed piece, Dr. Ibrahim relied on well-respected sources to describe police abuse, torture and death of dissidents in Egypt. Between 2000 and 2003, Dr. Ibrahim and 27 employees of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, which he founded, were detained and prosecuted. (CCS protested the arrests in 2002.) It took three years and multiple appeals before Egypt’s Court of Cassation acquitted them of all charges and those responsible received rebuke. Fearing further arrest and mistreatment, Dr. Ibrahim, who is 68 years old and in poor health, lives in exile. (See Good News.)
We protested the judicial dissolution of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA). On February 7, the Ethiopia Supreme Court instructed the ETA to hand over property, other assets, and its name to an association which was formed by the Government. Members of ETA have been harassed and jailed for many years. ETA was established in 1949 and is a member organization of Education International, the global federation of teachers. The decision of the Ethiopia Supreme Court on 7 February was to instruct the ETA headed by Gemoraw Kassa, to hand over property, other assets, and its name to an association which was formed in 1993 by the Government. Dissolving ETA is a violation of International Labor Organization Convention No. 87 which states that “Workers and employers organizations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.” ETA believes that the decision was not based on a proper examination of facts and was politically motivated.
Asked again, as we had in previous years, for police protection for members of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG), in particular for its Executive Director, the anthropologist Fredy Peccerelli, his staff, and his family. They again received death threats coinciding with the recent announcement of proceedings based on Guatemalan genocide in the 1980s. It is thought that military officers involved are afraid of the work FAFG has been doing exhuming the mass graves of people massacred during the conflict.
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 in Iran. The authorities have refused to disclose information about where the Alaei brothers are being held and have not provided them access to counsel. Arash and Kamiar Alaei are well known in Iran and internationally for their contributions to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs. For more than 20 years, the Alaei brothers have been active in addressing problems relating to drug use, with a focus on the spread of HIV/AIDS. The authorities have not announced why the brothers were detained or whether or not they intend to bring any charges against them. Moreover, they have refused to disclose information about where the Alaei brothers are being held and have not provided them access to counsel. Physicians for Human Rights and other organizations have circulated petitions to release the brothers.
Wrote in concern about the arrest and prosecution of leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran accused of spying for Israel — Fariba Kamalabadi, who holds a graduate degree in education, Afif Naemi, a former medical student, Saeid Rezaie, an engineer, Behrouz Tavakkoli, a lecturer in social work and other leaders. Fariba Kamalabadi, who holds a graduate degree in education, Afif Naemi, a former medical student, Saeid Rezaie, an engineer, Behrouz Tavakkoli, a lecturer in social work, as well as Vahid Tizfahm and Jamaloddin Khanjani, were arrested by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence in the early hours of May 14, 2008. Mahvash Sabet, a former teacher, has been in custody since March 5, 2008. The seven initially were held in solitary confinement in Section 209 of Tehran’s Evin Prison, which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence. The Baha’i International Community has strongly denied the claims made by the Iranian authorities.
We welcomed the release of human rights activists Jum a Boufayed and Adil Humaid (see Good News). However, we expressed urgent concern for ‘Abd al Rahman al-Quotaiwi, a fourth year medical student missing since his arrest, and for Dr. Idris Boufayed, a seriously ill activist, who, together with eleven others, has been convicted to up to 25 years in jail for peaceful protest. However, Abd ‘al Rahman al-Quotaiwi has disappeared since his arrest in February 2007. Moreover, Dr. Idris Boufayed, who is suffering from advanced lung cancer, was convicted recently to a 25 year sentence, even though a committee has consented to his release on medical grounds. A State Security court inside Abu Salim prison, has handed down the following convictions for peaceful demonstrators: Al-Mahdi Humaid,15 years; Al-Saquid Salih Humaid, 15 years; Faraj Humaid,15 years; Ali Humaid,6 years, 6 months; Ahmad Yusif al-’Ubaid,15 years; ‘Ala’ al-Dirsi,6 years; Jamal Ahmad al-Haji,12 years; Dr. Idris Boufayed,25 years; Farid al-Zuwi,6 years; Bashir al-Haris,6 years; Al-Saduid Qashut,7 years (see Good News.)
Opposed potential prosecution and harassment of Professor Jan T. Gross, a Princeton historian, whose 2006 book “Fear” details Polish victimization of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust after World War II. The public prosecutor in Krakow, where the book’s Polish translation appeared, invoked a law that made “slandering the Polish nation” punishable by a fine or prison term and threatened to prosecute the author on his Polish book tour as well as his publisher. Statute 132 was passed by the government of former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in 2006 and provides a three-year prison term for anyone “publicly accusing the Polish nation of participating in, organizing or being responsible for Nazi or Communist crimes. We received a response from the Polish government advising us that the prosecution has been dropped and that the statute is being challenged in legal proceedings as unconstitutional (see Good News).
We urged authorities to find a solution to the closing of the European University in St. Petersburg for violating fire safety regulations. A court ordered that all academic work be stopped and classrooms be sealed for a minimum of 90 days. The ruling was upheld on February 18, despite the fact that many of the hazards had been remedied, according to EUSP. Moreover, the EUSP’s operational license had been revoked and it could not find new temporary quarters without such a license. A communication from the Government of St. Petersburg’s Committee on Science and Higher Education advised us that the University has been reopened (see Good News).
We wrote in concern for Dr. al-Faleh, Professor of Political Science at King Saud University in Riyadh, who was arrested by secret police on May 19, 2008, and is being 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 are serving jail terms. Al-Faleh was told by detained activists that the prison was overcrowded, dirty, and lacking health care. On January 10 of 2009, al-Faleh was released from prison (see Good News.)
We wrote in concern about Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, 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 BBC correspondent Jonathan Head, according to news reports, as well as Australian Harry Nicolaides, a lecturer at Mae Fah Luang University sentenced to three years in jail, based on the contents of a novel that sold 10 copies. Those found guilty under the law may be sentenced from three to fifteen years in jail (see “Good News.”)
Protested the prosecution of Professor Atilla Yayla, a member of Gazi University faculty, who was given a fifteen-month suspended sentence for suggesting in a panel discussion in November 2006 that the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was not as progressive as official portrayals indicate. A proposal to amend the statute under which Professor Yayla was sentenced was considered in the Turkish parliament but the prohibition on criticizing the founder still remains.
Asked that Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi, a Libyan meteorologist who has been detained at the Guantanamo detention facility since 2002 and reportedly was diagnosed with hepatitis B and, more recently, with tuberculosis, be given specialized medical treatment. He claims that he was denied such treatment, despite repeated requests by him and his lawyer. Response from the Department of Justice assured us that adequate medical care is being provided to this detainee.
Urged the U.S. Department of Energy to provide a full hearing to Dr. Moniem El-Ganayni, a nuclear physicist who had served DOE’s contractors on nuclear programs for 18 years. Dr. El-Ganayni, a US citizen, was the imam at Pennsylvania State Correctional Center in Marienville, Forest County in 2007 and his clearance revocation without a hearing followed this activity. The Department of Energy responded that it was not authorized to comment on the case. The ACLU is challenging the revocation without a hearing as a violation of El-Ganayni’s freedom of religion and association. According to the ACLU, Dr. El-Ganayni lost in the District Court and is appealing to the Court of Appeals. CCS has been asked to consider filing an Amicus brief in this case.
The Committee of Concerned Scientists, as an organization and some individual board members, supported two petitions circulated by the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). One protested an attack wounding Professor Ze’ev Sternhell, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, that seemed to have been a retaliation for his expression of political views and was considered by academics world wide a grave threat to academic freedom.
Another petition called for the release of Iranian American graduate student Esha Momeni and of Professor Mehdi Zekeriam who were both detained in Iran for advocating for women’s and human rights. Esha Momeni was released on $200,000 bail.
- Through a press statement issued on August 4, 2008, the United States State Department deplored the sentence passed on Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim: “We are disappointed by the recent conviction in Egypt of democracy activist Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim.”
- Giles Ji Ungpakor, professor of political science at Chulaong University in Thailand, arrived in Oxford, Great Britain, to avoid what he believed would be an unfair trial.
- Professor Matrook Al-Faleh was released from jail on January 10, 2009 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
- The European Parliament awarded the 2008 Sakharov Price for Freedom of Thought to Chinese political activist Hu Jia, as well as demanding his release.
- According to news reports, over 8,000 Chinese from all walks of life have signed Liu Xiaobo and others’ petition to the Government urging compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- We welcomed the release of human rights activists Jum a Boufayed and Adil Humaid. In October, Libya freed Dr. Idris Boufayed from detention, after nearly 20 months.
- We received a letter from Poland’s Office of the Plenipotentiary for International Dialogue of the Prime Minister’s
- Chancellery advising us the the threatened prosecution of Professor Jan Gross was discontinued and that the Ombudsman brought an action against the law involved challenging its constitutionality.