During 2014, the Committee of Concerned Scientists continued to advocate on behalf of scientists, academics, engineers and physicians. We wrote in concern for more than 30 individuals or groups of individuals, located in 11 countries. We generally addressed our letters 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 continued to work with other human rights organizations to increase our influence in each case. Although there were some good news, most of the cases supported the continued need to protest of our colleagues’ human rights violations.
We wrote in concern for Abduweli Ayup, an imprisoned linguist and educator, arrested on August 20, 2013. Ayup, a 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 his family’s 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. His family and network of supporters had been raising funds for his fine. The Linguistics Society of American (LSA) had also advocated for Ayup. GOOD NEWS: According to news reports, Ayup was released on November 27, three months before the end of his 18-month sentence.
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 He Quinhua 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 the cancellation of an upcoming faculty vote to expel Professor Xia Yeliang 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.
On September 29, 2014, CCS joined the international outcry at a life sentence handed down for Professor Ilham Tohti. Tohti, a professor at Central University for Minorities in Beijing and 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.
While we deplored Tohti’s sentence we continued to be distressed about reports of state-sponsored mistreatment of his wife Guzelnur and their young children. According to April 8, 2014, testimony by Tohti’s daughter Jewher Tohti, a student at Indiana University, before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Tohti’s wife could not access his bank account. Police surrounded her house and followed her and her children. This condition was particularly damaging to Tohti’s two young children, according to Jewher. One of them had nightmares from having seen his father beaten. Our subsequent letter on behalf of Tohti’s family protested confiscation of his assets, creating the real danger that his family would lose their home.
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 and requested deletion of his name from any list preventing his entry to China for academic purposes.
In addition, CCS learned that on December 8, 2014 a Chinese criminal court sentenced seven of Professor Tohti’s students to three to eight years in prison. They were convicted on charges of separatism. Arrested in January of 2014 along with Tohti, they were reportedly held incommunicado for about eight months. The students were not heard of until Tohti’s two-day trial, where three of the students claimed that Tohti had sought to stir ethnic tensions. CCS protested at the lack of due process and possible coercion, especially since reports indicated that students who testified against Tohti received shorter sentences than the others.
In March 2014, we expressed shock and sadness at the news of the death in detention of human rights activist and lawyer Cao Shunli. Since 2008, Cao has pushed for petitioners and activists to have a voice in China’s domestic human rights reviews and the United Nation’s universal periodic review (UPR). Authorities first detained Cao at Beijing airport on September 14, 2014, as she was en route to Geneva to participate in a human rights training program. Cao suffered from several conditions, including tuberculosis, liver disease and uterine fibroids, according to the New York-based group Human Rights in China. Beijing’s Chaoyang district detention centre, where she was held, refused to give her medical treatment for months, causing her condition to deteriorate, even though the US Department of State, among others, had repeatedly expressed concern about her health. Cao was finally taken to a hospital on February 19 after she fell into a coma.
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. GOOD NEWS: On December 29, 2014 the Attorney General issued an order for Qazzaz’s release; his case has been closed and no charges will be proffered.
Amr Hamzawy, a professor of political science at Cairo University and of public policy at the American University in Cairo, faced criminal charges in Egypt for expressing his opinions on Twitter. He wrote that he found a verdict against 43 employees of Western-based civil society groups “shocking and obviously political.” 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.
We wrote protesting the treatment of Dr. Mostafa Zidan, a professor at the National Institute of Laser Studies, and Dr. Magdu Khalifa a professor at the College of Applied Arts. According to news reports, both were arrested on charges of belonging to the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Both academics were on hunger strikes in protest of their conditions, including ill treatment and harsh conditions. The allegation of harsh treatment and the resulting hunger strikes seem to imply that rights have not been granted, rights which are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory as of 1982. We requested investigation of this situation and assurance that Professors Zidan and Khalifa are afforded full opportunities to humane prison conditions, as well as a fair trial, due process during imprisonment, and medical care if needed.
GOOD NEWS: On October 13, 2014, Omid Kokabee’s attorney, Saeed Khalili, announced that the Supreme Court of Iran had accepted his request for reconsideration of Kokabee’s case. Khalili saw this as the court’s finding that, upon retrial, Kokabee’s initial verdict should be reversed. 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. UPDATE: Unfortunately, an appeals court in Iran subsequently ignored the opinion of its supreme court and reaffirmed Kokabee’s ten-year sentence. There was no explanation of the ruling and it is unclear whether it can be appealed. We will continue to advocate for Kokabee in spite of this disappointment.
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. UPDATE: In April 2014, Babaei put in a request to have his medical condition checked out, as he was having dental problems and sever stomach conditions. Six months after the request he was sent to medical centers outside the prison.
We had written in 2012 on behalf of Bahman Ahamdi Amouee, an Iranian economist and journalist sentenced to seven years of imprisonment and 34 lashes for alleged anti-state activities. Copies of our letter were sent to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. On January 27, 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention demanded his immediate release because they found Amouee’s detention arbitrary and contrary to international law. We requested Iran to conform to the decision of the Working Group. GOOD NEWS: On October 4, 2014 Amouee was released from prison. He has written a report on prison conditions and discusses inmates who have been left in prison and forgotten by the judicial system.
We supported the asylum application of mathematician Dr. Ahmad Zainy al-Yasry together with his family after his surviving an assassination attempt. This was probably motivated by his facilitation of international scientific exchanges. Dr. al-Yasri hoped to continue his teaching and research in Germany, where he had studied and had professional contacts. GOOD NEWS: We understand that Dr. al-Yasry’s application was granted.
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. The hearing is fixed for November 5th. UPDATE: Sharom submitted an application to challenge the constitutionality of the Sedition Act of 1948. In November 2014, the High Court judge referred Azmi’s constitutional challenge to the appropriate court.
In May, 2014, attorney and human rights advocate Rashid Rehman, who had been defending Junaid Hafeez, an adjunct lecturer at Bahuddin Zakarya University against blasphemy charges, was murdered in his office. Previous death threats had motivated the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, where Rehman was a coordinator, to express concerns for his safety to the central government of Pakistan. We demanded immediate investigation of this outrageous crime and protection for any other lawyers similarly threatened. The Pakistani Human Rights Commission thanked CCS for its concern.
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.
In 2012, we had written on behalf of Dr. Evgeny Vitishko, a geologist and member of the North Caucasus Environmental Watch organization in protest for his arrest after attempts to call attention to violations of Russian environmental laws. In June 2012, Vitishko was given a suspended sentence. We wrote again in March of 2014 because a court in Tuapse ruled that Vitishko should serve three years in prison for “violating the curfew on his suspended sentence.” Vitishko denied violation of his curfew and believed that the charges were meant to prevent the issuance of a report he was preparing on the environmental impact of the Sochi Olympics. We wrote to Russian authorities to reinstate the original as well as the suspended sentence, which were punishing Vitishko’s right to carry out peaceful protests.
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 May 2014, we wrote protesting punitive actions against Turkish physicians who provided emergency care to persons injured during protests in May of 2013. The doctors were being prosecuted for their actions in a makeshift medical center in the Bezmi Alem Valide Sultan Mosque on June 1, 2013, for allegedly establishing unauthorized emergency medical centers and for using the mosque for this purpose. Doctors Selcan Yuksel and Erenc Ysemin Dokudag faced criminal charges calling for up to 11 years in jail. These charges were taking place in the context of legislation signed by Turkish President Abdullah Guhl on January 17, 2014, criminalizing emergency care for protester. We understand that leading medical associations and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Care have criticized the law, which puts professionals in conflict with their internationally recognized ethical obligations, as well as with Turkish law. We joined the numerous medical associations around the world that have protested the trials and the law.In another action punishing participants in the 2013 Gezi park protest, Ali Cerkezoglu, Secretary of the Istanbul Medical Association, Beyza Metin, Secretary of the Istanbul Chamber of Electrical Engineers, and Mucella Yapici, General Secretary of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, were indicted for founding a criminal organization, violating public order and organizing illegal protests. These and other organizations established the Taksim Solidarity Coalition to protest urban development plans for Gezi Park and adjoining areas. 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.
Probably the most tragic letter we wrote in 2014 concerned the kidnapping, beating and death of Dr. Yuri Verbitsky, a geophysicist and member of the Ukraine National Academy of Sciences. His frozen body was discovered on January 22 after he had been kidnapped allegedly by Ukrainian security forces from a hospital in Kiev, where he was being treated for an eye wound received during a demonstration concerning Ukraine’s relation to the EU. When we wrote to then President Yanukovych in February, we understood that Ukrainian authorities had opened a criminal investigation into Verbitsky’s death. As Human Rights Watch said, the investigation should be “independent, effective and should include any evidence of government collusion.” These attacks appeared to punish Verbitsky’s rights of expression and protest against government actions and his ability to get treatment after an injury suffered during a demonstration. We urged authorities to exert every effort available to resolve this shocking occurrence.
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.
We wrote to National Science Foundation on behalf of Dr. Valerie Barr, a Professor of Computer Science at Union College, who was let go after one year of a two-year contract on the ground of “dishonest conduct.” In 1979, Barr volunteered for two advocacy groups that had tied to a terrorist group guilty of a failed bank robbery in 1981. In her 2013 interview, Barr denied knowing about the nature of the group — to which she did not belong — or that she advocated violence. Our letter said that an accusation of dishonest conduct is a very serious charge against a respected academic, especially since it is based on seemingly innocent conduct that took place 30 years before her federal employment. We urged NSF to find a resolution to her rights to her reputation as well as NSF’s as a promoter of scientific freedom. UPDATE: NSF’s response reaffirmed their decision. Dr. Barr, however, conveyed her appreciation for CCS’s advocacy.
Do Thi Thoan was awarded a Masters Degree from Hanoi National University of Education in 2010, after receiving the University’s highest possible evaluation from the assessment committee. Apparently, Thoan’s Masters thesis was later reviewed by another committee, which then revoked her degree in two decisions issued in March 2014. These actions occurred without disclosure to Thoan or her thesis supervisor Associate Professor Nguyen Thi Binh or opportunity to disagree. CCS joined 166 academics in Vietnam and 100 overseas Vietnamese academics who had signed an open letter to Hanoi National University of Education demanding that the revocation of Ms. Thoan’s Masters Degree be reversed. We urged that their demands be met in the interest of academic freedom and fairness. We also urged the president of the University to reinstate Nguyen Thi Binh, Thoan’s thesis adviser, who was fired and punished for no reason except for her association with Thoan’s degree.
We were able to make several grants to organizations active in human rights during 2014: the Malta Institute for its work on scientific collaboration in pursuit of peace in the Middle East ($500); the Institute of International Education for its work on behalf of Syrian scholars in exile ($700); and the Human Rights Committee of the National Academies, in recognition of its advocacy for colleagues in jail in Turkey ($100)