We continued to advocate in 2014 on behalf of scientists, academics and doctors. The following are highlights of our cases so far. Unfortunately, Professor Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison for his support of China’s Uighur minority. In Iran, Hamid Babaei, an engineering student in Belgium, was sentenced to six years in prison, echoing the Omid Kokabee case.
We are pleased to report some good news. In Iran, Omid Kokabee, a 32 year old physicist who has been in prison there since 2011, has been granted a retrial. In Turkey, Fatih Hilmioğlu, former rector of Inonu University, was released from jail. In the United States, The US Department of Energy’s Inspector General will investigate Los Alamos National Laboratory’s firing of James E. Doyle. And finally, there is some hopeful news in China, where supporters of Abduweli Ayup expect him to be released from prison early in 2015.
We wrote in concern for Abduweli Ayup, an imprisoned linguist and educator, arrested on August 20, 2013. Ayup, an Uyghur linguist, completed his studies at the University of Kansas in 2011. He then returned to Xinjiang, China, hoping to establish a Uyghur Language school, and was preparing to open a Uyghur language kindergarten when he was arrested. For months, Ayup was not heard of, in spite of family efforts to locate him. Finally, after a one-day trial on July 11, 2014, Ayup was given an 18-month sentence for “illegal fundraising” to finance the new school. The sentence was effective from his date of initial detention and he was fined $13,000. UPDATE: His family and network of supporters, who have been raising funds for his fine, anticipate his release on February 2015.
On September 29, 2014, CCS joined international outcry at a life sentence handed down for Professor Ilham Tohti. Tohti, an advocate for China’s Uighur minority, was sentenced to life in prison after a two-day trial closed to the public, for “separatism,” a charge he denies. In addition, the court ordered all of his assets confiscated, leaving his family in severe economic distress. The verdict appears to be based entirely on his teachings and non-violent expressions of opinion. CCS has been advocating on behalf of Tohti and his family since his initial arrest and mistreatment in jail, as well as deploring an earlier instance curtailing his travel to the US.
Chinese hostility to Tohti has apparently extended to Elliott Sperling, an associate professor of Central Eurasian studies at Indiana University and a supporter of Tohti’s, who was denied entry to China on July 5, 2014. We protested this denial of Sperling’s right to travel and academic freedom.
Zhang Xuezhong, a Professor of Law at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, was fired for “seriously violating teachers’ professional ethics.” Zhang, who has been an advocate for freedom of speech and association under the Chinese constitution, denied ever using his position as a teacher to promote his views. CCS wrote to the University’s President to protest what appears to be retaliation for Zhang’s views rather than abuse of his position.
In an August 2, 2013 letter to the President of Peking University Wang Enge, CCS urged cancellation of an upcoming faculty vote to expel Professor Xia Yeiling for his support of free speech and constitutional government. Xia, a respected authority on international economics, was a visiting professor at Stanford at the time, but said that he wanted to return to China to continue teaching. UPDATE: Peking University did not renew Xia’s contract, claiming that his “poor teaching” rather than his advocacy was the reason for this step. Xia said that no one had ever been fired on those grounds. He is now in the US as a visiting scholar of the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, in Washington DC.
Khaled al-Qazzaz, an engineer and educator, was foreign relations secretary to former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. After Morsi was deposed by the Egyptian military, al-Qazzaz was arrested. He has been imprisoned in maximum security for over a year, half of that in solitary confinement. We asked on July 14, 2014 the Egyptian government to provide him with due process, a fair trial, and access to counsel and family. UPDATE: Al-Quazzar was approved for transfer to a hospital for surgery.
Amr Hamzawy, a professor of political science at Cairo University and of public policy at the American University in Cairo, faces criminal charges in Egypt for expressing his opinions on Twitter. He wrote that he found “shocking and obviously political” a verdict against 43 employees of Western-based civil society groups. The employees were found guilty of “receiving illegal funds” and “undermining national security.” Hamzawy’s trial for his offense, which might entail three years in jail, is upcoming. CCS asked on March 27, 2014 for dismissal of charges against Hamzawy based on his right to express his professional opinion.
Retrial granted for jailed Iranian physicist (physicsworld.com)
GOOD NEWS: On October 13, 2014, Omid Kokabee’s attorney, Saeed Khalili, announced that the Supreme Court of Iran has accepted his request for reconsideration of Kokabee’s case. CCS has taken the lead in advocacy for Kokabee , a 32-year-old physicist who has spent the last 3 years and 8 months in a Teheran prison since his return from Texas University/Austin as a graduate student in optics and photonics. CCS has written numerous times on his behalf, especially in view of his poor health as a result of incarceration. Kokabee was sentenced to ten years for “illegal earnings” and “communicating with a hostile government” after a trial lacking all elements of due process. Thirty-one Physics Nobel laureates have signed an open letter addressed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling for Kokabee’s release.
In a repeat of the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of Omid Kokabee, Hamid Babaei, an industrial engineering student in Belgium, was arrested in Iran as he attempted to return to his studies at the University of Liege. He was sentenced to six years in prison for communicating with a hostile government, apparently on the basis of his scholarship funding. On April 23, 2014, CCS wrote to protest charges that Babaei denies and to urge their dismissal.
Azmi Sharom’s Sedition Act challenge referred to Federal Court (themalaysianinsider.com)
Azmi Sharom, an associate professor of law at the University of Malaysia Faculty of Law, compared an ongoing political crisis to a situation in 2009 and criticized the secrecy with which the issue was treated. He is being prosecuted for sedition. CCS requested on October 1, 2014, that to the extent his statements were made in respect to his professional competence as a legal scholar, the charges should be dropped as violating his human rights to free expression and academic freedom. UPDATE: The hearing is fixed for November 5th.
Four scientists at Russia’s Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics (ITEP) resigned in protest after their colleague Alexander Gorsky was fired for attending a workshop in the US at Stony Brook University. As a condition for his attendance, where Gorsky was to deliver a paper published a year earlier, ITEP’s administration allegedly demanded a cooperative agreement with Stony Brook and a security clearance for the paper. Gorsky refused to comply with these “illegal” and “absurd” demands and attended the workshop. CCS wrote to administrators joining their Russian colleagues’ demand for Gorsky’s reinstatement.
GOOD NEWS: Fatih Hilmioğlu, former rector of Inonu University, was released from jail on February 20, 2014, six months after an order from the Constitutional Court that his imprisonment interfered with his treatment for cancer and other illnesses acquired in prison, and that this constituted an infringement of his right to life. Immediately after leaving the prison, Hilmioğlu said: “If I’ve been released due to the excessive length of my detention, there are still people there who have been detained longer than me. If I’ve been released for health reasons, I can say as a doctor that there are people there who are sicker than me.” CCS wrote several times on behalf of Hilmioglu and circulated petitions asking for his release.
Criminal trials have started against many of the organizations active in peaceful protests in Istanbul in 2011. Included are the leaders of associations of doctors, engineers and architects. According to reports, the indictment charging these defendants does not contain any evidence of participation in or incitement to violence or any other criminal activity. CCS wrote June 26, 2014, to urge dismissal of prosecution based on peaceful expression of opinion and of the rights of association of these defendants.
GOOD NEWS: In response to CCS, the Department of Energy’s Inspector General will investigate whether James E. Doyle, a political scientist employed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, had been fired in retaliation for publishing an article concerning US nuclear weapon policy. The Administrator of the National Nuclear Safety Administration of DOE, Frank G. Klotz, on September 30, 2014, writing to CCS, reaffirmed his support for academic freedom in national laboratories and said he had asked for the investigation of whether Doyle’s termination was a result in whole or in part of retaliation.
- Retrial granted for jailed Iranian physicist (physicsworld.com)
- Not a Laughing Matter: Famed Comedian Supports Call for Release of Iranian Physicist (amnestyusa.org)