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. In this column, CIFS describes some of the issues that the Committee is monitoring as well as the Society's other human rights activities.

Kemal Gürüz

Kemal Gürüz is a retired professor of chemical engineering and the former rector of Karadeniz Technical University in Trabzon, Turkey. In June 2012, he was arrested and imprisoned on charges of conspiracy to overthrow or incapacitate the government in connection with the 1997 political transition in Turkey. Gürüz has denied the charges. Given no clear evidence for his pre-trial detention, CIFS wrote to Turkish President Abdullah Gül this summer to urge him to ensure that this case proceeded in a manner consistent with Turkey's obligations under domestic and international law. Given that Gürüz attempted suicide in June, CIFS asked President Gül to consider dropping charges against Gürüz or permit his release on bail on humanitarian or medical grounds. In August, Gürüz and several other academics were convicted of terrorism-related charges and of seeking to destabilize the government. Gürüz was sentenced to 13 years and 11 months. However, CIFS is happy to report that on September 5, Professor Gürüz was released from detention and permitted to go home, pending appeal of his sentence. While he still faces charges in a second trial, CIFS is pleased that he is no longer in prison. 

Academic Boycotts
CIFS recently reiterated its opposition to academic boycotts and stated its support for open scientific dialogue among scientists. The statement notes, in part, that "CIFS respects the rights of individual scientists to express their opinion of a government's specific policies or actions." However, the Committee also "strongly believes that excluding scientists, because of their nationality, from participating in the scientific enterprise or discouraging others from engaging them, is wrong." 

The full statement can be read on CIFS's website.

Lev Ponomaryov
CIFS expresses its concern over the beating of physicist and human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, 71, on the night of June 22, 2013. The assault occurred as Ponomaryov was evicted from the building in Moscow where his organization, For Human Rights, was based. It is our understanding that this assault was conducted by men in civilian clothing while a group of Russian police officers observed, but did not try to intervene in the beating. This represents a major affront in Russia to human rights work and to civil society more generally. What is particularly alarming is the openness with which the act was conducted, which indicates a brazen increase of anti-human rights activity in Russia. 

CIFS encourages the physics community to take note of the incident, and to assist and defend its colleagues, both domestically and abroad.

AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition
In July, APS participated in the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition meeting. The theme of the meeting was Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which states that everyone has the right "to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications." To ensure this right, Article 15 requires that governments "respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research" and "recognize the benefits of international…cooperation in the scientific field." One plenary session explored  the associations among human rights, national security, and the scientific freedoms guaranteed by Article 15. The session included talks by two APS members, E. William Colglazier and Herman Winick. Colglazier, who is the Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, stressed the importance of science to global economic progress and diplomacy. Winick, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, emphasized the benefits of international collaborations in science. He used the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) project in Amman, Jordan as an example of how science can aid in fostering dialogue, cooperation and trust among people from countries that are in conflict. 

Vikram Singh Prasher of the Executive Committee of the Forum on Graduate Student Affairs is now serving as the APS student representative in the Coalition. He will work to bring the voices of physics graduate students to the Coalition's efforts and educate that community about the connection between science and human rights.


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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella