Summaries of 2012 Cases
During 2012, the Committee of Concerned Scientists continued to advocate on behalf of scientists, academics, engineers and physicians. We wrote in concern for more than 23 individuals or groups of individuals, located in 9 countries. We generally addressed our letters (available in full on our website, concernedscientists.org) to the heads of state, as well as to the ministries or local authorities with jurisdiction over the case, when we were able to identify them. We contacted the ambassador of the country involved, as well as our State Department and embassy, where we could hope for their assistance. We continued to work with other human rights organizations to increase our influence.
Fewer cases within our jurisdiction enabled us to write more follow-up letters in each case and to circulate petitions on behalf of the victims of human rights violations. The following summaries will give you an idea of the grave risks our colleagues are taking in exercising their human rights, as well as of the few victories we achieved on their behalf.
We were deeply disappointed to learn that the Bahraini Court of Appeals on January 7, 2013, upheld a life sentence in jail for Dr. Abdul Jail Al-Singace, a professor of mechanical engineering who has taught at the University of Bahrain since 1995 and is a leader of the democratic opposition. Lawyers involved in the appeals process have criticized its secrecy and lack of due process. We were and remain concerned with Dr. Al-Singace’ access to medical care because he is partially paralyzed and wheelchair bound. CCS had written numerous letters to the King of Bahrain, the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, and other government officials in protest against a conviction that appeared to be based solely on Al-Singace’s reporting on human rights abuses in Bahrain (see for example our letters of March 25, 2011 and April 29, August 8, and December 19, 2012).
Dr. Masaud Jahromi, Chairman of the Department of Telecommunication Engineering at Ahlia University’s College of Mathematical Sciences and Information Technology, was arrested on April 14, 2011, in the aftermath of protests in Bahrain, and charged with “participation in an unauthorized rally.” He was released on bail in September, pending his trial on January 19, 2012, when the charges against him were dismissed. The court nevertheless imposed a prison sentence (already served) and a fine, all of which he protested. He remained suspended from the University.
Good news: With the assistance of CCS Advisory Board member Jack Minker, who mobilized the computer science community, Jahromi was finally reinstated to his former position.
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. Our latest letter in this case (August 24, 2012) publicly urged President Obama to exert more pressure on Bahrain, an American ally, to dismiss all charges.
Good news: on June 14, 2012, a civilian court retried 20 of the Bahrain health professionals who were convicted by military tribunals and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Nine of the health professionals had their sentences reduced; two, who remain at large, had their sentences sustained; and nine were acquitted of charges after being found innocent.
According to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), on November 21, 2012, Bahrain sentenced 23 of the remaining medical professionals to three-month jail suspended terms for felony charges that include supporting the protesters during the early weeks of the uprising. The cases against five other medics were dropped. Of the remaining health professionals who were accused of misdemeanors, 23 have now been convicted by a criminal court, and are sentenced to serve three months in prison. Five have been acquitted.
Good news: After 27 years of seeking justice in the 1985 disappearance of her brother Boris Weisfeiler, Olga Weisfeiler announced the indictment of eight Chilean police officers charged with his arrest and with covering up his disappearance. The case of the Pennsylvania State University mathematician was reopened in 2000 after the Clinton administration declassified about 450 secret documents relating to Weisfeiler. The American documents, which were cited in the Chilean indictment, indicated that Weisfeiler might have been handed over to a secretive German religious cult known as Colonia Dignidad, a few miles from where he was last seen. CCS has supported the search for Boris Weisfeiler over many years and will continue to do so though the Weisfeiler fund.
We wrote to Representatives of the Fifth Plenary Session of the Eleventh National People’s Congress and Committee Members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on March 8, 2012, supporting the request of The Tiananmen Mothers, family members of victims of the violent suppression of peaceful protests in June of 1989, asking members of the Congress and of the Conference to open a dialogue to resolve the issues raised by those events. Our letter requested Chinese authorities to investigate the events of 1989, resolve each case under the law, and pursue accountability for those responsible, as the family members petitioned.
We urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on May 1, 2012, to grant asylum to Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer who had defended Chinese families forced to undergo unlawful sterilizations or abortions. Chen had sought refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing after having been imprisoned on trumped up charges for four years and held as a prisoner in his home without charge or sentencing for 19 months.
Good news: Chen was granted asylum and is studying law at New York University Law School.
We wrote on April 23, 2012, requesting President Hua Jintao’s protection of the right of academics to travel under The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which China is a signatory) on behalf of Gu Chuan, a blogger who had been invited by Columbia University as a Visiting Scholar. According to Scholars at Risk (SAR), Gu Chuan, his wife and their two children attempted to depart for the United States but were prevented from boarding an outbound plane from Beijing. Gu Chuan’s passport, including his US visa, was confiscated. Gu Chuan’s apartment bloc experienced increased police presence at the time of this incident. In our letter to Chinese authorities, we said that the apparent restriction on Gu Chuan’s travel suggests serious concerns not only about his ability to engage with colleagues in his field, but also about intimidation of intellectuals generally.
Good News: In July 2012, Gu Chuan was finally able to leave China and take up his position as visiting scholar in the US.
CCS publicly expressed shock and sadness at the death of Wilmar Villar Mendoza, a 31-year old human rights activist, who was beaten and arrested following a public peaceful protest on November 14, 2011. Villar was sentenced to four years in prison. He began a hunger strike in the Prison of Aguadores on November 25, 2011 to protest the false accusations that led to his incarceration and died on January 18, 2012 after organ failure. We reiterated our concern about Cuba’s continuing actions in violation of the human rights of its citizens and of their freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in jail.
On his return to his native Iran last winter, Omid Kokabee, a graduate student in optics at the University of Texas, was arrested and accused of “communicating with a hostile government” and of “illegitimate earnings.” CCS wrote an open letter in the magazine Nature to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in May, 2012, requesting Kokabee’s release. CCS assured the Iranian authorities that Omid Kokabee’s professors and fellow students all confirm that he was dedicated to his studies and refrained from engaging in politics. In October of 2012, Kokabee was sentenced to 10 years in jail for “communicating with a hostile government,” after a group trial of 10 or 15 people. While the other accused had confessed under pressure on Iranian television, Kokabee has steadfastly denied all charges since he was first imprisoned. According to reports, Kokabee never had access to a lawyer and could only submit a written statement in his defense.
In June, 2012, CCS transmitted a petition, signed by 450 students and academics around the world, urging a pardon for Kokabee. CCS had also alerted the US State Department of the impact of Kokabee’s arrest and sentence on many Iranian students enrolled in US universities.
Update: In November of 2012, according to Kokabee’s attorney, a new charge was filed adding an additional 91 days to Kokabee’s ten-year sentence for earning money after fellow inmates paid Kokabee for teaching them foreign languages and physics. CCS has been participating in the efforts of students and faculty at the University of Texas on behalf of Kokabee by organizing and attending meetings at universities in the US and in Spain.
On March 19, 2012, 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 to belong 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. We further understand that the Tehran Appeals Court upheld Professor Ghanbari’s death sentence in April 2010 and the Commission of Justice in Tehran rejected his request for pardon on February 28, 2012. Ghanbari’s lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, is serving a six-year prison sentence and unable to defend him.
According to an August 21, 2012 press release by the US Department of State, 36 Iranian universities have banned Iranian women students from 77 critical fields of study. These include nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering and business management. We wrote to Iranian authorities asking them to rescind this decree, which excludes women – who constitute a majority of all university students in Iran – from educational opportunities, as well as from employment in the fields covered by the decree, solely on the basis of their gender. We cited the guarantee in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (to which Iran is a party) of the right of all to education, including higher education. Article 15 of the same Covenant guarantees to all the rights to the benefits of science.
Ramin Zibaei, a scholar of psychology and dean at the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) in Tehran, was arrested in May 2011, along with more than a dozen BIHE staff and faculty. We understand that he has remained detained since, and that he has been denied access to legal counsel and family. CCS wrote on behalf of Zibaei in September of 2011. We respectfully urged authorities to ensure that Iran’s obligations under international law are upheld with regard to Zibaei and his colleagues at the BIHE and, pending his earliest release, to guarantee his well being and to ensure that he is granted access to family, legal representation of his choosing, and medical treatment.
Update: An appellate court upheld in February 2012 Zibaei’s sentence to four years in prison on charges related to his academic activities at BIHE.
Abdolfatah Soltani is an internationally respected human rights lawyer and, with Nobel Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi, co-founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. According to his daughter, Maede Soltani, in June of 2012, Soltani was sentenced to imprisonment for 13 years and banned for 20 years from exercising his profession. Soltani had previously been sentenced to 18 years on various charges including co-founding the Center for Human Rights Defenders, and endangering national security. The appeals court reduced his sentence to 13 years but upheld his transfer from Tehran’s Evin Prison to a prison in the remote city of Borazjan. We joined other international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Bar Association of the City of New York, in urging Ayatollah Khamenei on June 29, 2012, to overturn Soltani’s prison sentence and release him immediately and unconditionally.
CCS joined Reporters without Borders in urging Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in December, 2012, to overturn the harsh and degrading sentence given to Bahman Ahamdi Amouee, an Iranian economist and journalist, particularly with respect to the degrading punishment by lashes. Amouee was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison and 34 lashes for “anti-state activities.” He has been in prison since 2009 and in 2012 denied visits from his family and legal counsel. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, over 120 journalists requested his release.
On June 20, 2012, Drs Svytoslav Bobyshev and Yevgeny Afanasyev, professors at Baltic State Technical University in St. Petersburg, were sentenced to 12 years in jail in a trial held behind closed doors for spying and passing state secrets to Chinese intelligence officers concerning Russia’s Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile. The professors have denied the charges and plan to appeal their sentences. These accusations stem from a cooperative relationship between Baltic State Technical University and Harbin Engineering University in China, which allowed the professors to give lectures at the Chinese university. According to the Russian Committee for the Defense of Scientists, they are victims of “spy mania.” CCS wrote to Russian authorities on July 5, 2012, to protest Bobychev and Afansyev’s two-year pretrial detention and closed-door trial as contravening international standards of due process, fair trial and detention.
Good news: A Siberian court in November 2012 has finally granted parole to a Russian physicist who has spent 11 years in jail for alleged espionage and embezzling of funds. If no appeal is filed, Valentin Danilov could be released as early as next week. Danilov headed the Thermo-Physics Center at Krasnoyarsk State Technical University in Siberia before he was arrested in 2001 on charges of selling classified satellite technology to a Chinese company. He was acquitted of all charges in 2003 but one year later a new jury overturned the decision and sentenced him to 14 years in prison, later reduced by one year. As a researcher, Danilov had investigated effects of solar activity on space satellites. He has always maintained that the satellite device in question was unclassified technology that had been public knowledge for many years. CCS had advocated on behalf of Danilov for a number of years after his arrest.
Drs. Suren Gazaryan, a zoologist and member of the Russian Academy of Science, and Evgeny Vitishko, a geologist, belong to the Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus, a group concerned with the preservation of the Russian environment. During protests concerning threats to a protected forest, the protesters admittedly damaged a fence around a compound. On March 13, 2012, the compound’s guards beat both Gazaryan and his lawyer Victor Dutlov. In April, Gazaryan was charged with intentional destruction of property in the amount of 119,000 rubles, an amount far in excess of the damage, according to Gazaryan’s lawyer. Gazaryan also faced a criminal conviction of up to five years in jail and an additional charge of injuring the guards who allegedly beat him. We wrote on May 9, 2012, to local and federal authorities to inquire about what appears to be intimidation to prevent expression of opinion.
Update: Gazaryan’s three-year sentence on the criminal charge was suspended on appeal. However, on August 2, 2012, Gazaryan was again arrested, this time on the charge of threatening to murder a security guard at a dacha on the Cape of Idokapas. Gazaryan denies the allegations against him. According to Environmental Watch, Gazaryan was carrying out a legitimate inspection of a pier on a public shore being constructed in the Glendzhik area. We wrote to President Putin in December of 2012 that we had reason to believe that the actions of the authorities were designed to deter and intimidate Dr. Gazaryan and others from engaging in protests against actions that they believe violate Russian law. We urged Russian authorities to investigate the circumstances of both these cases.
According to Amnesty International, Mohammed Salah Mohammed was arrested in Khartoum, a few days after he joined peaceful protests in June of 2012. A student at the University of Khartoum’s Faculty of Science, Mohammed is the spokesperson of the Student Democratic Front at the university and the President of the Nubians’ regional student association. CCS wrote to the Minister of the Interior on July 24, 2012, in concern that he was being held without charge and at serious risk of torture and ill treatment, according to Amnesty International and to reports from family members who visited him in jail. Mohammed was in particular danger because he suffers from chronic kidney disease and requires medical attention.
Good news: Mohammed was released on August 10, 2012.
Dr. Halil Kemal Gürüz, a chemical engineer, education administrator, retired professor, and former university rector, was arrested for his supposed role in the 1997 alleged conspiracy against Turkey’s first Islamic-led government, although he was already out on bail based on 2009 charges of involvement in the same conspiracy. On September 2, 2012, we learned from Professor Gürüz’ family members that he had suffered chest pains in his prison cell. He was transferred to intensive care in a hospital and an angiography was performed for blockage of one of his arteries. He is now back in prison. We wrote on July 19 and again on September 6, 2012, expressing deep concern that continued imprisonment presents serious threats to a man of his age and condition. We publicized a petition on behalf of Gürüz on our website and we are publishing his prison diaries, giving readers an insight into Turkish detention.
Good news: CCS welcomes the news from Scholars at Risk informing us that Professor Busra Ersanli of Turkey was released from prison on Friday, July 13, 2012. However, charges against Dr. Ersanli remain and that the trial will continue on October 1. Ersanli, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at Marmara University in Istanbul, was arrested on October 28, 2011, on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization. This charge reflects the allegation that an organization that she belongs to is indirectly and by association linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is banned in Turkey – an allegation Ersanli denies. CCS, in a November 30, 2011 letter to the President of Turkey, had protested her arrest based on her indirect association with organizations that allegedly have links to terrorists.
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 ago at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center in Abu Dhabi. The pediatric cancer patient Dr. Karabus treated later died later of leukemia. Although an initial conviction of Dr. Karabus, on manslaughter charges (about which he had never been notified) had been overturned, he will now be tried again on the same charges. We strongly urged UAR authorities on October 2, 2012 to remedy this evident miscarriage of justice in the case of Dr. Karabus.
Good News: On Oct. 11, Dr. Karabus, who is 78 years old and depends on a pacemaker for his heart, was released on bail pending trial.
Executive Director’s Note:
I am happy to continue the past practice of expressing gratitude for the unstinting assistance and wise counsel provided throughout the year by the co-chairs of the Committee of Concerned Scientists – Eugene Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer, Joel Lebowitz, Paul Plotz, and Walter Reich. This report is the result of our collaborative effort.
Sophie Cook, Executive Director, CCS