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  • Prize for defenders of scientists' human rights


Two US scientists who have campaigned widely to protect the human rights of researchers worldwide, particularly in China and the Middle East, are to be recognised for their efforts.

Zafra Lerman and Herman Winick will receive the 2005 Heinz R. Pagels 'Human Rights of Scientists Award' on 29 September. The prize is awarded by the New York Academy of Science, in the United States.

Both campaigned extensively to free scientists imprisoned after the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident in China. Several hundred students were killed for protesting against China's economic instability and political corruption.

Lerman is chair of the American Chemical Society's subcommittee on scientific freedom and human rights. She began campaigning on behalf of oppressed and persecuted chemists around the world in the 1980s.

She focused her attention on China after the Tiananmen Square incident, initially by organising a forum of Chinese scientists in Boston to discuss human rights in China in 1990. She later helped free several Chinese students, whom she brought to Chicago, her base in the United States.

In the early 1990s astrophysicist Fang Li-Zhi, a political dissident, took refuge in the US embassy in Beijing. Lerman was instrumental in enabling him to criticise China's lack of intellectual freedom.

Physicist Herman Winick became a human rights activist in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he was appointed chair of the American Physical Society's committee on international freedom of scientists.

Like Lerman, Winick has strenuously defended the rights of student leaders imprisoned after the Tiananmen Square incident. In the early 1990s, a report leaked from China's Lingyuan Prison, where physics student Liu Gang was being held, described the torture inflicted on political prisoners, including solitary confinement and the use of electric batons.

Winick was one of 360 US-based physicists who appealed to the Chinese government for Liu's release, which eventually happened six years after his initial imprisonment.


Winick's most recent success was securing the release of jailed Iranian physicist Mohammad Hadi Hadizadeh. The pair had worked together in the Middle East.

Hadizadeh, who himself received the Pagels human rights award in 2002, was imprisoned in 2001 for criticising Iran's dictatorial political regime.

He says Winick was the driving force behind his release in 2003, and key to negotiating Hadizadeh's move to the United States.

On receiving his award, Winick said his campaign for Hadizadeh was so strongly motivated because it was the first time someone he knew personally was being punished for his political views.

He added, "I am continuing these efforts to find him a permanent position and reunite him with his family."

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