APS News

APS Committee on International Freedom of Scientists

CIFS Briefs: Highlighting the Connection Between Human Rights and Science for the Physics Community

Since its creation in 1980, the APS Committee on International Freedom of Scientists (CIFS) has advocated for and defended the rights of scientists around the globe. As an APS standing committee, CIFS is charged with advising the APS leadership about “problems encountered by scientists in the pursuit of their scientific interests or in effecting satisfactory communication with other scientists.” In this column, CIFS describes some of the issues that the Committee is monitoring as well as the Society’s other human rights activities.
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Physicist Adlène Hicheur is sentenced to four years and then freed
On May 4, Adlène Hicheur, the CERN scientist who was detained in October 2009 and accused of association with a terror group, was sentenced in France to four years in prison for “criminal association with a view to plotting terrorist attacks.” He was released from jail less than two weeks later. Prior to his conviction, CIFS had sent a letter on his behalf to the French judiciary concerning the fact that he had been detained for an extended period of time without having been formally charged with any crime. 

Igor Reshetin released from Russian prison
Scientist Igor Reshetin, the former director of a rocket technology firm, who was sentenced to 11-1/2 years in prison–later reduced to seven years on appeal-- in 2007 was released from prison on June 18. He was accused of selling sensitive state technology to a Chinese firm. CIFS had written to Russian authorities in 2008 on his behalf given that the charges against him appeared related to what would be considered routine scientific cooperation between research institutes in two countries.

Omid Kokabee’s unfortunate prison sentence
Physics graduate student and APS member Omid Kokabee was sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 13 along with 14 other defendants in the court of Judge Salavati in Tehran. Omid was not represented by a legal counsel. His case has been advocated by many scientific and human rights organizations seeking a fair trial for him and his release from prison. 

CIFS was early in writing to the Iranian authorities calling for his release from detention and permission to depart for the US to continue his graduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). CIFS more recently wrote to the Iranian judiciary in June calling for a chance at a fair trial. A member of CIFS and faculty in Physics at UT Austin wrote a petition on Kokabee’s behalf in The Daily Texan, "A fair trial for Omid Kokabee ".

Several other petitions also have been initiated calling for a fair trial for Omid and his eventual release.
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Science and Human Rights Coalition
In July, APS was represented at the biannual AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition meeting in Washington, D.C. APS is one of more than thirty scientific organizations that is a member of the Coalition, which facilitates communication and cooperation within the scientific community on the topic of human rights. Coalition members recognize that there is a connection between science and human rights and that scientists have an important role to play in the realization of human rights. 

In particular, APS was pleased to participate in the Welfare of Scientists Working Group meeting. This Working Group seeks to increase the effectiveness of scientific organizations in defending the human rights of scientists. Coalition members learned about the actions that other scientific organizations have taken on behalf of scientists around the world whose rights have been violated.
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Editor: Alan Chodos