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.


CIFS has been monitoring with concern the ongoing situation in Turkey, where thousands of academics have been removed from their positions and many universities have been closed following the attempted coup in July. CIFS is aware of at least 25 physicists who have lost their positions. In addition, one Turkish-American physicist, Serkan Golge, was arrested while visiting family in Turkey in July shortly after the coup attempt. The U.S. State Department has confirmed that it is aware of his situation and is actively working on his case.

In February 2016, APS President Homer Neal wrote to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to express the Society’s concern about the detention and interrogation of signatories of the "We will not be a Party to This Crime" petition that called for an end to military operations in southeast Turkey. As a result of signing the petition, more than 1,000 academics were subjected to administrative and criminal proceedings. APS defended the right of free expression of scientists and researchers, and asked Turkish authorities to end all proceedings against these individuals. In August, APS signed a letter to President Erdoğan with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and other scientific associations that expressed concern for human rights after the coup attempt. The letter stated in part that "[t]he future prosperity and security of any nation depends on its ability to be a knowledge-based, innovative society and to a considerable extent on the work of its scientists, engineers, academics, and researchers."

Omid Kokabee

CIFS was elated when APS member and physics graduate student Omid Kokabee was released on parole in August after having served half of his ten-year prison sentence. He is recovering from kidney cancer that he was diagnosed with while in prison; he had a kidney removed in April.

APS members will recall that in 2011 Kokabee was arrested and detained in Evin prison in Tehran while trying to return to the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a graduate student. Kokabee has stated that Iranian authorities had asked him many times to participate in classified military research. However, he refused to engage in this research, resulting in his imprisonment. In 2014, Kokabee received the APS Andrei Sakharov Prize for his refusal to "use his physics knowledge to work on projects that he deemed harmful to humanity, in the face of extreme physical and psychological pressure."

Imad al-Barghouti

CIFS is pleased that Palestinian astrophysicist Imad al-Barghouti — a professor at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem — was released from detention in Israel in November. He had been detained in April 2016 at a West Bank security checkpoint. CIFS had been concerned that he was being held without charge. In November, Barghouti was found guilty of "incitement" and sentenced to seven months in prison for posting information about politics in social media. However, he was released from detention for time served.

AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition

APS will be represented at the next meeting of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition that will be held January 26 - 27, 2017. The theme of the meeting is the Human Right to Water. Presentations will include examples of research that have informed policies to help prevent violations of this right. APS members attending the APS April Meeting in Washington, D.C., January 28 - 31, 2017, are encouraged to attend the Coalition meeting, which will also be held in Washington, D.C., at AAAS headquarters.

The AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition is a network of scientific associations and societies that facilitates communication and cooperation on the topic of human rights both within the scientific community as well as between the human rights and scientific communities. 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.

Mikhail Danilov

In 2013, CIFS watched with concern when the Russian government proposed and subsequently passed legislation to reorganize the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). Many critics of the legislation had claimed that it would inhibit the independence of the RAS as well as counteract its attempts to uphold the high standards of Russian science. In response to his views concerning the controversial legislation, world-renowned experimental physicist Mikhail Danilov was forced to resign his position as Deputy Director for Particle Physics at the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics (ITEP) in Moscow. He was subsequently fired from ITEP in 2015. Despite these circumstances, CIFS is pleased to report that Danilov was recently elected Academician of the RAS. We congratulate him and thank him for his commitment to science, especially under difficult circumstances.

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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Rachel Gaal
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik

December 2016 (Volume 25, Number 11)

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Prize and Award Speakers at the April Meeting 2017
Institute for Advanced Study Named Joint EPS-APS Historic Physics Site
Science in the Trump Administration
The Back Page
Research News: Editors’ Choice
Washington Dispatch
This Month in Physics History
CIFS Briefs
Profiles in Versatility
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