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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. Recent APS and Committee activities include:

Andrei Sakharov Prize
APS presented its 2014 Andrei Sakharov Prize to Boris Altshuler and Omid Kokabee at the APS April Meeting in Savannah. The Prize recognizes scientists who have demonstrated leadership in defending and supporting human rights. Altshuler, of the P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute in Russia, was recognized For his life-long struggle for democracy in Russia and for his advocacy on behalf of the rights of neglected children. Kokabee, physics graduate student and prisoner of conscience in Iran, was honored 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. Since Kokabee is in prison, his sister Leila accepted on his behalf. For more, see the June issue of APS News.

Petition Calling for the Release of Omid Kokabee
Earlier this year, APS, Amnesty International, the Committee of Concerned Scientists, and United for Iran co-sponsored a petition calling for the unconditional release of Omid Kokabee from prison. To take advantage of the fact that Kokabee was receiving the Sakharov Prize at the APS April Meeting, CIFS set up a booth at the meeting to educate attendees about Kokabee and ask that they sign the petition. These signatures and others from around the world are being collected by Amnesty International to send to Iranian authorities.

When Kokabee’s family visited him in prison the day after the awards ceremony, they were able to share photos of the ceremony and of attendees at the booth. Kokabee’s sister reported that they appreciate the support that they are receiving from APS.

Alexander Gorsky
In March, Alexander Gorksy was removed from his position at the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics (ITEP) in Moscow. He was fired for “truancy” after he attended a scientific meeting in Stony Brook, NY, to which he had been invited to give a talk. ITEP’s administration had placed conditions on approving his travel to the conference — such as receiving a security clearance for his talk that was based on his published research. Gorsky refused to comply with the demands as he deemed them to be “illegal.” Numerous colleagues and scientists have spoken out in his defense, and several physicists resigned from the academic council of ITEP in protest.

CIFS wrote to the Russian Ministry of Education and Science to express its concern that a scientist was being fired for what appeared to be trumped-up reasons. CIFS stressed that scientific progress relies on the freedom of scientists to travel and engage in the international scientific enterprise. As CIFS stated in its letter, “scientific progress works best when scientific decisions are made based on scientific merit” rather than “political considerations.” The Committee asked that the ITEP administration reconsider its action and reinstate Gorsky to his scientific position.

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