Programs: Science and Policy
AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program
Scientists Recognized by the Science and Human Rights Program
Remarks by Harriet Presser,
Distinguished University Professor,
Dept. of Sociology,
University of Maryland, College Park
Saturday, February 15, 2003
AAAS - Human Rights Reception Honoring Saad E. Ibrahim
On behalf of the American Sociological Association, I want first to thank AAAS for inviting me to speak here today. I also thank the ASA for asking me to represent the association at this reception to honor Professor Saad Ibrahim. A few years ago, I was fortunate to be on a research panel with Dr. Ibrahim's wife, Barbara Ibrahim, so it is a special pleasure for me to meet their children and other family members today, and be among scientist colleagues from around the world who honor this family at this difficult time.
The American Sociological Association has a significant international constituency among its 13,000 members. And ASA has long supported efforts to promote academic freedom and to act as a voice for social science scholars facing human rights violations. ASA executes this important self-imposed responsibility in part by collaborating with AAAS, sharing information, and working with the staff of the AAAS Human Rights Program.
Upon the news of Dr. Ibrahim's initial arrest on June 30, 2000, ASA prepared a formal response to Egyptian officials and provided critical information to ASA members about the case in order to allow them to take individual actions to protest his imprisonment. Since then ASA has conducted press briefings and ASA Council members have published op-ed pieces to increase the visibility of his case among important audiences.
Dr. Ibrahim's recent history - in and out of courts and incarceration - has been a tumultuous one at best. But with each new move or decision, ASA has written letters to top Egyptian and American officials urging the reversal of the verdict against Dr. Ibrahim and his associates. ASA distributed press releases to the media and information to its members as further details emerged.
As stated by ASA Executive Officer Sally Hillsman, in an August 4th letter of protest to Egyptian President Mubarak, "[ASA is] gravely concerned that the latest verdict was issued as a result of Dr. Ibrahim's work as a scholar and scientist. In the expression of his work, Dr. Ibrahim is entitled to the protections guaranteed by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights to which Egypt is a signatory . We are also profoundly dismayed by the sentencing procedure and verdict, which delivered unwarranted punishment to Dr. Ibrahim and his associates."
Upon Dr. Ibrahim's most recent re-sentencing this past summer-to seven years in jail---ASA President Barbara Reskin, at the opening session of ASA's Annual Meeting in Chicago, urged ASA members to take action to help protect the academic and scientific freedom of colleagues in Egypt. Many ASA members responded to this appeal and ASA received a formal, though not very reassuring reply from the Egyptian ambassador. And as President Bush publicly chastised Egypt and international political sentiments began to emerge in the press, ASA consulted with a close family member as to the advisability of ASA taking further action to increase the visibility of this issue here in the United States. In addition, ASA received a request for advice from a liaison to a United Nations committee as to further pressure that might be applied to the Egyptian government. ASA is pleased to have been in the "thick of it all."
On February 4th, Dr. Ibrahim was tried for the third time, and the verdict will be delivered on March 18th. There will be no further judicial appeal to this final verdict. Let us hope for a favorable outcome.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to the fact that Dr. Ibrahim is presently completing a very thoughtful article about his personal experiences with the Egyptian criminal justice system, which will appear in the summer issue of our sociology magazine, Contexts. There are key lessons in his essay for any scholar who is doing politically sensitive research.