Zafra Lerman

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Dr. Zafra Lerman, "Head of the Science Institute, is very active in international human rights issues. She has served as Chair of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Subcommittee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights since the inception of the Subcommittee in 1986; and is vice-chair of the Board of the Committee of Concerned Scientists. She works tirelessly with other human rights organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, Amnesty International, and others, to assist scientists in trouble. She has received the Public Affairs Award of the American Chemical Society -- Chicago Section (1997) for her human rights efforts. ...

"Prior to her becoming chair of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Subcommittee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights in 1986, the Society had taken virtually no action in issues concerning scientific freedom and human rights. ...

"Dr. Lerman worked tirelessly on behalf of Dr. Yuri Tarnopolsky, a Russian prisoner of conscience. Working with her subcommittee and with other human rights groups, she was instrumental in his release and his arrival in the U.S. Dr. Lerman arranged for Dr. Tarnopolsky to speak to scientists in Chicago only two weeks after his arrival. These lectures resulted in many people becoming active on behalf of human rights; with this, she began a chain reaction for change. She was ultimately able to arrange for Dr. Tarnopolsky to address an audience at the Fall 1987 National ACS meeting. To coincide with the publication of Dr. Tarnopolsky's book "Memoirs of 1984", Dr. Lerman arranged for him a speaking engagement in Chicago in 1993, where he shared some of his experiences, and encouraged people to become involved with the case of Vil Mirzayanov...

"Dr. Lerman also began monitoring the case of Dr. Vil Mirzayanov, author of the article "A Poison Policy" in the September 20, 1992 issue of Moscow News about an ongoing Russian chemical weapons development program, for which he was arrested and charged with violating the law against divulging state secrets. In 1993, Dr. Lerman organized in Chicago a forum on human rights featuring Nuria Mirzayanova (Dr. Mirzayanov's wife) and Yuri Tarnopolsky. In 1994, Dr. Mirzayanov was permitted to come to the U.S.

"Dr. Lerman was instrumental in the ACS co-organizing with human rights committees of the AAAS, American Physical Society, and the Committee of Concerned Scientists a symposium on human rights in 1995. Dr. Lerman convinced the ACS to pay the travel expenses for Dr. Vil Mirzayanov to attend the meeting, where he was featured speaker. Since that time, Dr. Lerman has continued to influence the ACS to financially co-sponsor the reception honoring dissidents held during AAAS national meetings.

"While serving as an executive member of the Albert Einstein Peace Prize Foundation, Dr. Lerman met twice with Andrei Sakharov (who was awarded the Peace Prize) in Washington DC in 1988 and discussed with him concerns of scientific freedom and human rights in the Soviet Union. He provided her with valuable advice on how to proceed. This meeting was reported in the article "Sakharov in U.S.: Visit Filled with Moments of Drama" by R. Selzer, Chemical & Engineering News, 66, 47, 4-5 (1988). As a result of her meeting with Sakharov, who spoke no English and communicated through an interpreter, Dr. Lerman decided to learn Russian before her journeys east...

"Since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, Dr. Lerman has added the issue of human rights in China to the high priority items on her daily agenda. She met monthly with the Chinese consul for science and technology at China's Mission to the United Nations in New York to discuss the situation. At the 199th national meeting of the ACS in Boston, Dr. Lerman arranged a forum of Chinese scientists to address the issue of human rights in China.

"She worked diligently on behalf of Professor Fang Lizhi, the Chinese astrophysicist who spent an entire year in the American Embassy in Beijing. Although Fang was not a chemist, Zafra successfully mobilized the ACS on his behalf (this alone is an enormously difficult task to accomplish). Upon his release, she brought him to Chicago in October 1991, where he addressed several audiences; during one of the Chicago symposia Fang called for the active participation of the Chicago Chinese community on behalf of dissidents in China. She also arranged interviews for Fang with Chicago newspapers and radio stations. Local coverage included: K. Boykin "Chinese scientist at Columbia College (radio interview) WBBM-AM (16 November 1991); M. Ihejirika "Exile hails warning by Bush to Beijing" Chicago Sun-Times (17 November 1991); and J. Kirby "Democracy for China is urged" Chicago Tribune (17 November 1991). It was from Dr. Lerman1s office that Prof. Fang spoke to China for the first time over Voice of America radio.

"In 1992 she traveled to China where she met with officers of the Chinese Chemical Society and faculty and students at Beijing University. At these meetings she raised the issue of scientists and graduate students who fell into trouble after the Tiananmen Square massacre. She also met with dissidents during this trip, and it was necessary for her to conceal handwritten letters of introduction from Fang Lizhi, so these dissidents would not fear talking to her openly (these letters, if they had fallen into "the wrong hands" could have spelled disaster for her and for the dissidents named within). She met with officials from the government office of Science and Technology and twice with Professor Xu Liangying (formerly of the Institute of the History of Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences) who was under house arrest; she later learned that the Chinese translator provided for her meetings with Prof. Xu was himself called in for questioning by government officials to reveal the nature of their conversations. Upon her return, the ACS Board sent letters to China at her request. These experiences are described in her "Report on Human Rights In China" in the Chemical Education Newsletter (1992); she learned subsequently at a meeting in Thailand that this report was circulated among Chinese government offices and the Chinese Chemical Society.

"At the spring 1992 ACS national meeting in San Francisco, Dr. Lerman organized a forum with Fang Lizhi to discuss how ACS members could help the situation in China. This was reported by C. Shannon "Helping scientists in China" in Chemistry and Industry (London, 20 April 1992). In l993 Dr. Lerman, in cooperation with the Committee to End the Chinese Gulag, initiated correspondence to Chinese authorities on behalf of Professor Xu Liangying and imprisoned chemistry graduates An Fuxing and Meng Zhongwei and physics graduate Liu Gang. Dr. Lerman later represented the ACS at the 1997 AAAS Science and Human Rights Symposium which honored and celebrated the freedom of Liu Gang.

"She traveled again to China in l995, met with Chinese officials and imprisoned scientists and gave a plenary lecture at the International Conference on the Public Understanding of Science and Technology in Beijing. She dedicated her lecture to all imprisoned scientists in China and asked publicly for their release; this action landed her in trouble with the American group with which she was traveling (they were anxious to steer clear of the human rights issue), and they attempted, unsuccessfully, to prevent Zafra from dedicating her lecture to dissidents.

In Chicago she has worked on behalf of a Chinese student. She was influential in obtaining his release from Chinese prison, and arranged for his travel to Chicago. She hosted him in her house for nearly a year and arranged a scholarship for college." [1]

Recipient of the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award.