Summaries of 2013 Cases
The Committee of Concerned Scientists advocated for sixteen individuals or groups during 2013 in ten countries. This reduced caseload enabled us to focus on several individual cases in which CCS had taken the lead and fostered cooperation with other human rights organizations. We were also able to cover events concerning human rights issues that were germane to our cases and to publish summaries of these events on our website, concernedscientists.org. Another new initiative is to periodically alert our supporters by email concerning new developments reported on the website.
In May of 2013, Maryam al-Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who is lived in exile in Denmark described in New York the repression of human rights defenders and general disrespect for individual rights in her country (see our report on her talk at concernedscientists.org). GOOD NEWS: In September 2013, the Center, whose President Nabeel Rajab is in jail in Bahrain, won Norway’s Rafto Prize for its fight against repression.
Dr. Abdul Jail Al-Singace, a professor of mechanical engineering who had taught at the University of Bahrain and was a leader of the democratic opposition, is serving a life sentence. CCS wrote several times to the Attorney General of Bahrain and other authorities in protest against a conviction that appeared to be based solely on Al-Singace’s reporting on human rights abuses in Bahrain. In 2013, following a request from his family, CCS wrote again expressing our concern that Al Singace, who is wheelchair bound, has not had access to family visits in prison or to medical attention, in spite of his serious health problems.
For following their ethical duty to treat injured protesters in the spring of 2011, 82 nurses and doctors were arrested and disappeared, in clear violation of international treaties and customs. International outcry, including letters from CCS, followed. Bahrain’s Attorney General vacated rulings of the military courts against these medical professionals and ordered them tried in civilian courts. While many of the defendants were acquitted in those second trials, nine health care professionals were still convicted of felony charges. GOOD NEWS: Physicians for Human Rights reports that of the initial detainees, all but three health professionals were acquitted or released without charge, although many of these still face unemployment or discrimination.
We urged President Wang Enge of Peking University in August 2013 to cancel a planned faculty vote to oust Professor Xia Yeliang, a faculty member at Peking University, solely because of his political opinions. At the time, Dr. Xia had taught in the Department of Economics at Peking University since 2000 and was a visiting scholar at Stanford University. He has been an outspoken advocate of free speech and constitutional government in China. In spite of protests from the international community, Professor Yeliang was fired from Peking University, allegedly for poor teaching – a charge that he strongly disputes. GOOD NEWS: Xia has an appointment at a Washington DC think tank for the spring term and an invitation to lecture at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
On February 2, 2013, Professor Ilham Tohti was denied permission to leave China to take up a position in the US as a Visiting Scholar at Indiana University. Tohti is a professor at the Central Minorities University in Beijing and an advocate for Uighur minority rights. We understand that Professor Tohti and his daughter were prevented from boarding a plane to the US from Beijing Capital International Airport. While Tohti’s daughter was permitted to depart for the United States, Tohti was held in custody for 10 hours, before being sent back to his apartment without explanation. We invoked the right to travel under international covenants and especially their recognition of the benefits of international cooperation in science to urge China to lift restrictions on Tohti’s travel. UPDATE: On January 15, 2014, Dr. Tohti was arrested after a 30-hour search of his apartment. CCS protested his arrest.
Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese lawyer and human rights activist, was imprisoned in China from 2006 until 2010 and subsequently placed under house arrest for 19 months. In 2012, Chen sought and was granted asylum by the United States – a move CCS publicly supported. He spent a year at NYU law school, and now has a fellowship at Catholic University in Washington DC. In 2013, Chen expressed concern about the harassment of his family in China that appeared to be retaliation for his escape from house arrest. In May of 2013 we wrote to Chinese authorities to question their treatment.
We were particularly concerned about the arrest and sentencing of Chen Guangcheng’s nephew, Chen Kegui, who suffers from appendicitis, but to whom prison authorities have refused to give medical attention. We also understood that the four year-old son of Chen Kegui had become a target of official harassment. We believed that these actions against Chen Guangcheng’s family have been taken in retaliation for his escape. Chen stated that China’s agreement with the United States regarding his asylum included a promise to investigate his trial’s lack of due process. Therefore, we respectfully requested an investigation into the trials of both Chen Guangcheng and of Chen Kegui. GOOD NEWS: We understand that pressure on Chen’s family in China abated after international pressure, but Chen Kegui’s sentence was not reversed.
Zhang Xuezhong, a legal scholar, was fired in December for advocating free speech and for writing an article criticizing the Communist Party rule. Xuezhong refused to apologize to administrators at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai for expressing his political opinions in his e-book, “New Common Sense: The Nature and Consequences of One-Party Dictatorship.” Currently Zhang Xuezhong is the lawyer of one of China’s most prominent legal activists, Xu Zhiyong, who has been accused of disrupting public order by organizing protests for social justice. CCS wrote urging reinstatement of Professor Zhang.
Alber Saber, a 27 year old computer science graduate of Cairo University and Thebes Academy and a Coptic Christian, was sentenced to three years in jail on December 12, 2012, for “blasphemy and contempt of religion.” Saber allegedly uploaded sections a video that portrays the prophet Mohammed in a way that is offensive to Muslims. News reports also claim that Egyptian police, when called, failed to protect his home and family from an outraged mob. In January 2013, CCS joined Amnesty International in protesting Egypt’s failure to protect Saber’s freedom of religion. According to Saber’s family, other prisoners in jail assaulted Saber. His mother and sister had to flee their home. The court in Cairo allowed Saber to be released on bail pending his appeal. UPDATE: We learned that Saber subsequently fled Egypt in fear for his safety.
In a public letter dated March 2013, Omid Kokabee, a University of Texas graduate student in optics currently imprisoned in Iran, stated that he was being persecuted for refusing to work on Iranian military projects, including the development of laser-based uranium enrichment technology that could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons. CCS advocacy for Kokabee started after his arrest in Iran in 2011 and his 2012 conviction for “communicating with an enemy state” and “illegal earnings.” On his behalf, in May 2013, CCS addressed the International Atomic Energy Agency, protesting the attempt of Iranian authorities to coerce Kokabee to participate in potentially illegal military actions under Iran’s treaty obligations under the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty to which Iran is a party.
GOOD NEWS: Kokabee been awarded the American Physical Society’s 2014 Andrei Sakharov Prize for “his courage in refusing to use his physics knowledge to work on projects that he deemed harmful to humanity, in the face of extreme physical and psychological pressure.” In November of 2013, Amnesty International declared Kokabee to be a prisoner of conscience and called for his immediate release. CCS co-sponsored one of two November 2013 conferences on human rights in Iran. The November 16 conference featured the case of Omid Kokabee and human rights organizations and individuals, including CCS, who have been advocating for his release (see summary on concernedscientists.org).
UPDATE: We understand that Kokabee’s treatment in jail has improved since the award of the Sakharov Prize, although he is still unable to present papers on optics that he wrote in jail to relevant conferences in Iran. We wrote to Iranian authorities asking for permission for Kokabee to do so.
In 2010, we wrote in grave concern for Professor Abdolreza Ghanbari who had completed a PhD in Persian language and literature and taught this subject. We understand that his only political activity was belonging to a trade union that had been dissolved in 2007. Ghanbari was sentenced to death on January 30, 2010 on charges of “enmity against God” for allegedly participating in protests on the holiday of Ashura in December 2009. The Tehran Appeals Court upheld Ghanbari’s death sentence in April 2010 and the Commission of Justice in Tehran rejected his request for pardon on February 28, 2012. GOOD NEWS: In May 2013, Amnesty International learned that Ghanbari’s death sentence was set aside. In September 2013 President Hassan Rouhani released Gahnbari’s lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights advocate who had been imprisoned and unable to defend him.
On June 22, 2013, Dr. Lev Ponomarev was severely beaten by private security guards who had been hired by bailiffs for the city of Moscow when he and his staff were violently evicted from his organization’s office “For Human Rights” during a dispute over the organization’s lease. Ponomarev worked and published for many years in elementary particle physics at the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow. He became involved in human rights and politics in the late 1980s, and has become one of the leading human rights figures in Russia. We urged President Putin in July 2013 to investigate the circumstances of this case and to thoroughly address the conduct of the local authorities, especially the use of violence that seems to be related to Ponomarev’s activities on behalf of human rights.
The Committee of Concerned Scientists wrote in May 2012 on behalf of Russian zoologist and environmental activist Dr. Suren Gazaryan and geologist Evgeny Vitishenko to protest criminal charges designed to retaliate for environmental inspections of government actions they claimed to violate Russian laws in the Sochi area, the site of the winter Olympics. Those charges resulted in a three-year suspended sentence for Gazaryan. In August 2012, Gazaryan was accused of another charge resulting from an altercation during an environmental inspection: attempted murder of a security guard. Sources in Russia believe that the charge was fabricated to prevent further inspections by Gazaryan and other environmentalists, CCS wrote in a June 2013 letter to federal and regional authorities asking for their review. UPDATE: We understand that Gazaryan has fled the Russian Federation to Estonia, in order to avoid further unjust prosecution. Vitishenko’s probation under his suspended sentence was repealed in December 2013 on grounds that he plans to appeal.
CCS wrote to Russian president Vladimir Putin in June 2013 in support of Yaroslav Belousov, a political science student who was arrested in June of 2012. According to press reports, Belousov was arrested while participating in an authorized protest demonstration. He has been in jail for a year and could be convicted of a sentence of up to 12 years. As reported in the New York Times, a video showed Belousov throwing a lemon at an officer, rather than rocks or asphalt pieces, as is being charged. We asked for a thorough investigation of these charges. UPDATE: At the end of January 2013, the prosecution demanded a minimal five-year sentence for Yaroslav Belousov.
Dr. Halil Kemal Gürüz, a chemical engineer, education administrator, retired professor, and former university rector, has been in prison outside of Ankara since June of 2012, on charges relating to the 1997 alleged conspiracy against Turkey’s government (“Ergenekon”). We have been concerned about his arrest and his health, as we wrote to Turkish authorities on September 2013 and earlier (see for example, our letters of 7/19/2012, 5/9/2013 and 6/12/2013). We were deeply disturbed to learn that he was sentenced to 13 years and 11 months imprisonment by a military criminal court. However, we welcomed the news that he was released pending his appeal. We strongly urged Turkey’s president in June 2013 to review the past conviction and reverse it on the basis of its lack of substantial basis, as well as prevent further prosecution of Dr. Gürüz and clear him of all charges.
GOOD NEWS: We welcomed the news that Dr. Halil Kemal Gürüz, was allowed to go home pending his appeal from the thirteen years and eleven month sentence imposed on him by a criminal court in Turkey on August 5, 2013. In a new trial on September 5 on another charge, an Ankara court pending trial placed Gürüz on probation. Although it seems that he is not entirely free from all prosecution, Guruz is no longer imprisoned, as he had been since June of 2012.
GOOD NEWS: Dr. Mehmet Haberal was released on August 5, 2013 as having served his sentence of twelve years and six months. Haberal, the rector of Baskent University in Ankara, who pioneered transplant surgery in Turkey had been detained for almost four years. CCS repeatedly wrote to Turkish authorities requesting his release on bail. In March 2013, we wrote in concern for Drs. Haberal and Fatih Hilmioglu, former rector of Inönü University in Malatya. They had been indicted on allegations of attempting to violently overthrow the government. Neither of these highly respected academics are known to have been involved in any violent activity. Drs. Haberal and Hilmioglu had been detained for almost four years, since their arrests in April 2009. Dr. Haberal has angina, cardiac arrhythmia, and severe anxiety and depression. Dr. Hilmioglu suffers from cirrhosis of the liver and reportedly is gravely ill. Haberal and other academics were accused of participation in an attempted 2007 coup against the Islamic-leaning elected government.
In an extensive and thoroughly researched investigative report that was released in August of 2013 – (see www.nationalacademies.org/humanrights) — the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies called on Turkey to drop all charges against scientists, engineers and doctors accused of terrorism-related crimes. These include Drs. Gürüz, Haberal, Hilmioglu and others for whom CCS has advocated. The authors of the report, — Nobel Laureate Peter Diamond, German surgeon Hans-Peter Zenner, and Carol Corillon, executive director of the International Human Rights Network –concluded that “there appears to be no credible basis on which to judge any of our eight colleagues guilty of committing the crimes of which they have been accused.”
Professor Pınar Selek is a writer and scholar whose research and writing focuses on women in disadvantaged or marginalized groups, including street children, prostitutes, transgendered individuals, and Kurdish communities. She was accused of acting as an accomplice in a 1998 explosion at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar due to her alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey as a terrorist organization. We wrote to protest Selek’s prosecution that appeared to be based on non-violent activities and associations made in the course of her academic research. After being detained in an Istanbul prison for more than two years and enduring torture, she was released following forensic testing that determined the blast was likely caused by a gas leak. Her prosecution continued, however, even though she was tried and acquitted of all charges on three occasions. She eventually fled to France to avoid further prosecution. In November 2012, the Istanbul 12th Heavy Criminal Court reviewed the case for a fourth time and on January 24, 2013, sentenced her in absentia to aggravated life imprisonment.
According to a July 16, 2013 article in the New York Times, the Istanbul Bar Association claims that Istanbul police, citing terrorism laws, issued a temporary order withholding legal assistance to detainees after recent protest. One of the students who had participated in the protests, Ismail Cem Bakir, a computer student at Istanbul Technical University, was arrested in July. According to his sister, the police threatened Bakir’s lawyer, who had come over to assist the family, confirming the Bar Association’s complaint. CCS wrote to protest this denial of due process. GOOD NEWS: Advisory Board member Dr. Jack Minker publicized Bakir’s case in the Communications of the Association for Computer Machinery and by bringing up the case at a conference in Istanbul. A colleague at the conference found out that, unlike some other protesters, Bakir was released after four days in jail.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Dr Cyril Karabus, a former professor of pediatrics and eminent South African pediatrician and oncologist, was arrested on August 18, 2012 while in transit in Dubai from Canada to South Africa. He was charged with the death of a child on whom he operated ten years earlier at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center in Abu Dhabi. The pediatric cancer patient Karabus treated later died of leukemia. Although an initial conviction of Karabus on manslaughter charges — about which he was never notified — was overturned, he was tried again on the same charges. We strongly urged UAR authorities to remedy this evident miscarriage of justice. GOOD NEWS: On Oct. 11, 2013, Karabus who is 78 years old and depends on a pacemaker for his heart was released on bail pending trial. On May 2013, he was finally acquitted and allowed to go home.
In May 2013, we wrote to Professor Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicist at Cambridge University, England, to express respectfully our sadness at learning that he had supported the British academic movement that is directed against Israel, “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS),” as publicly expressed in his decision to withdraw from the Israeli Presidential Conference of this year on that basis.. While the Committee of Concerned Scientists fully supports the right of scientists and others to criticize the policies of governments, we strongly opposed the blanket exclusion of colleagues, as proposed by BDS, from participation in international scientific or academic work or meetings on the sole basis of the sponsor’s or the scientist’s nationality. Since the BDS movement is sponsored by academics, its most likely impact will be on academia and science. We urged Dr. Hawking to reconsider his decision to boycott the conference and to withdraw his support of BDS. UPDATE: in 2014, the American Association of American Studies (ASA) voted to support BDS. CCS publicly opposed this academic boycott as well.