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The Radical Polymath Who Fought for Freedom

Obituary of Chandler Davis by Siobhan Roberts in The Nation

In July, Chandler Davis, an American Canadian mathematician and human rights defender, delivered welcoming remarks at a panel for the “Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War” in Ukraine from his hospital bed in Toronto, a vase of sunflowers by his side. 

The event was in support of the mathematician Azat Miftakhov, a 29-year-old graduate student from Moscow State University who has been detained in Russia since February 2019. It was co-organized by a committee of mathematicians, of which Davis was a founding member, who have lobbied for Miftakhov’s release. Davis noted that the panel was also there to advocate for others in prison for their beliefs, particularly Russians speaking out against war and “more generally in support of freedom of conscience and peace.”

“It means a lot to me to be opening this session, because I have a special bond to Azat Miftakhov,” he said. “Years ago, I was a political prisoner, too, not in Russia but in the USA. I was almost as young as Azat is now. Like Azat, I had a wife standing by me outside.”…

…Davis was always looking for ways to make silenced voices heard. He opposed the war in Vietnam and defended Palestinian rights against Israeli apartheid. He was part of what he described as a “band of rebels” within the mathematical community that helped establish the Association for Women in Mathematics and the National Association of Mathematicians for underrepresented minorities, and he was an original member of Science for the People, a movement of radical scientists. 

https://www.thenation.com/article/activism/chandler-davis-obituary/

Chandler’s words and his work will stay with us.

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Memorial is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

The Azat Miftakhov Committee congratulates the Russian human rights organization Memorial on being awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. The other two recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize are Ales Bialiatski, a human rights advocate from Belarus, and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties.

Since its founding in 1987, Memorial has bravely fought for human rights in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Their work in defense of democracy is particularly important now, when Russia is being plunged into dark depth of authoritarian oppression by Putin’s mad imperial ambitions and Russia’s bloody war of aggression in Ukraine.

We are particularly grateful to Memorial for their support of the case of Azat Miftakhov, whom Memorial declared a political prisoner. Memorial was also an invaluable co-organizer and participant of the human rights panel during the 2022 Azat Miftakhov Days against the War.

We once again sincerely congratulate Memorial on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and hope that Memorial will continue its fight for a free, peaceful and democratic Russia.

The Azat Miftakhov Committee

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Chandler Davis in memoriam

The Azat Miftakhov Committee is sad to report that Chandler Davis, a valued member of our committee, passed away on Saturday, September 24, 2022, surrounded by his family. Chandler was an outstanding mathematician and a complete human being. His name is connected with some major results on operators in Hilbert spaces. He wrote science fiction stories which were quite successful, and excellent poetry which is known to the happy few. Chandler also endeavoured to share his many talents to others, both in mathematical research, by directing theses and collaborating, and in mathematical education. He directed the journal Mathematical Intelligencer for over twenty years. But Chandler’s most important contributions came in the area of human rights. During the McCarthy era, he refused to collaborate with the infamous Committee on Un-American Activities. While the vast majority of academics at that time either agreed to denounce their peers or invoked the fifth amendment to remain silent, Chandler Davis did neither and just confronted the committee. For this courageous act he received a six month prison sentence in 1960 (he was 34, and had been married for 12 years). His university, the University of Michigan, summarily fired him, and not a single university in the US offered him a job. After his release from prison, Chandler emigrated to Canada, where he took a professorship at the University of Toronto. 

Chandler embraced many causes: no injustice, no oppression, no cowing of human capabilities by force was indifferent to him.  We are proud that the last cause he fought for was the case of Azat Miftakhov. During the Azat Miftakhov Days conference this July, Chandler was in hospital, but he insisted on participating and spoke from a hospital bed. We include below a statement he delivered on that occasion. Chandler’s words  and his work will stay with us. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife of 74 years, Natalie Zemon, and their children. 

The Azat Miftakhov Committee.

WELCOMING REMARKS of Chandler Davis for the panel on human rights organized on the occasion of the Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War, on July 6, 2022

It’s a pleasure to welcome you to this panel in support of our young colleague Azat Miftakhov and other political prisoners, in support in particular of Russians courageously speaking out against the war, and more generally in support of freedom of conscience and peace.

It means a lot to me to be opening this session because I have a special bond to Azat Miftakhov. I was a political prisoner myself, years ago, not in Russia but in the USA. I was not much older than he is now; like him I had a wife standing by me outside; and like him I tried to go ahead doing mathematics while in prison. It was hard, but not as hard as Azat’s imprisonment, and it was only half a year.

By the way, I have another bond to this Azat Miftakhov Day. After my prison time, there were many years when I served the American Mathematical Society as Chair of the Committee on Human Rights of Mathematicians, defending victims of repression in many countries. A very satisfying job, and one now being carried on by Ilya Kapovich. It’s good to work with Ilya jointly on this panel today.

WE ARE NOT ALONE. Even though only a minority around the world might share the radical philosophy of Azat —or my own— there are many many people in many countries who would defend our right to hold our views and to advocate them. Many many people are horrified by the invasion of Ukraine and want the war to stop, people in NATO countries and Ukraine, but also in Russia: thousands of Russians take the risk of saying so openly, often being arrested for it, and surely many more wish they felt they could. So you see, when we learn and study today, though we are few, we equip ourselves better to advance the cause of many.

There may already be a world-wide consensus for peace. It is hard to know how to gather the strands. Our objective must be, in the West as well as in Russia, just what the brave young man said in his banner on a Moscow street: NET VOINE. The world must somehow be steered back onto the path of diplomacy.

A terribly daunting challenge. But HEY, WE’RE MATHEMATICIANS, we spend our lives on non-trivial things, on studying questions whose answers we don’t know. We need to reach out to our colleagues in whatever country, in prison or out; we need each other; we all need to draw on the courage and wisdom of Azat Miftakhov and the rest of our fellows.

Chandler Davis, University of Toronto, member of the Azat Miftakhov Committee

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A court decision denies Azat Miftakhov early release on parole

On Monday, September 12 a court in Omutninsk denied Azat Miftakhov an early conditional release on parole. The correctional colony administration gave Azat a negative recommendation.

The colony authorities recently gave Azat a formal reprimand, on a manufactured charge of supposedly violating a rule about the number and size of photographs he is allowed to keep.

Prior to the court hearing the colony authorities also had Azat complete a lengthy psychological evaluation questionnaire, which is standard practice when they are trying to sink a prisoner’s chance for parole.

After this court decision Azat is expected to remain in the prison colony for another year, until September 5, 2023.

On the same day a different court, in Chelyabinsk, declared the Russian anarchist movement “People’s self-defense” a ‘terrorist organization’ and banned it throughout Russia. Azat had been formally accused by the FSB of being associated with “People’s self-defense”.

The Azat Miftakhov Committee continues to call for Azat Miftakhov’s immediate release from prison, so that he can resume his mathematical studies and research.

The Azat Miftakhov Committee

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A Moscow State University mathematics student Dmitry Ivanov is facing up to ten years in prison after an arrest for anti-war posts

Dmitry Ivanov, a fourth year student at the Faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics of the Moscow State University and the author of an opposition Telegram channel Протестный МГУ (Protesting MSU), has been arrested by the police in Moscow on June 3. Ivanov is being criminally charged under the infamous new Russian law about “fake” information about Russian military (clause “d” part 2 of article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).  At the time of his June 3 arrest Ivanov was already serving a 25-day administrative detention for organizing an unsanctioned protest rally.

Under the new criminal charge Ivanov faces up to ten years in prison. He is accused, in particular, of referring to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a war, and of posting information about the Russian military’s massacres in Bucha and Irpin.

Even before the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Ivanov’s channel Протестный МГУ regularly covered pro-democracy and opposition student activities, including actions in support of Azat Miftakhov. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ivanov’s channel became a prominent forum for anti-war views.

On July 18 the Moscow City Court heard a motion by Dmitry Ivanov’s lawyers for his release, but, not unexpectedly, the court denied this motion. Ivanov remains imprisoned pending his trial.

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Videos of the Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War – July 5-6, 2022

The Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War took place on Tuesday and Wednesday July 5-6, 2022.

It was organized by the Azat Miftakhov Committee and the prominent Russian NGO Memorial Human Rights Center, in solidarity with Azat Miftakhov, a graduate student from Moscow State University who has been arbitrarily imprisoned by Russian state authorities since February 2019.

In view of the unprecedented brutality and destructiveness of Russia’s criminal aggression against Ukraine, we have renamed our event, that was originally announced before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, into “Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War”. As we continue to fight for Azat’s release from prison, we stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian mathematicians and the people of Ukraine who suffer the terrible brunt of the war.

Tuesday July 5, 2022 from 4pm to 7pm Central European Summer Time (UTC+2) – online

Ilya Kapovich (Hunter College of CUNY, member of the Azat Miftakhov Committee)
Opening remarks (text available here)

Alexander Petrov (MPIM)
Title: Representations of Galois groups and families of algebraic varieties (abstract, notes)

Ilya Dumanski (MIT)
Title: Schubert varieties in the Beilinson-Drinfeld Grassmannian (abstract, slides)

Slava Rychkov (IHES)
Title: “Bootstrap” method in physics and mathematics (abstract, slides)

Wednesday July 6, 2022 from 5pm to 7pm Central European Summer Time (UTC+2) – hybrid, online and in person at the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHES) in Paris

A panel to assess the human rights situation in Russia through the cases of persecuted academics (texts of the speeches)

Chandler Davis, mathematician, University of Toronto

Alexander Cherkasov, Chair of the Council of the Memorial Human Rights Centre

Fabien Durand, President of the French Mathematical Society

Elena Gorban, Azat Miftakhov’s wife

Barry Mazur, mathematician, the Gerhard Gade University Professor at Harvard University, member of Scholars at Risk Harvard

Grigory Durnovo, OVD-info

Maria Menshikova DOXA

Vera Chelishcheva, independent journalist 

Ilya Nuzov, Head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, specializes in countries of the former Soviet Union

Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International Moscow Office Director

Martin Andler, mathematician, Université de Versailles St Quentin, for Memorial France

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Azat Miftakhov is awarded a fellowship by Scholars at Risk Harvard

We are pleased to report that, today, July 6, 2022, during the Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War human rights panel, Professor Barry Mazur announced that the Harvard University chapter of Scholars at Risk awarded Azat Miftakhov a Scholars at Risk Fellowship.  The fellowship provides scholars, who are facing political persecution in their home countries, with funding to pursue research at Harvard for up to ten months. We hope that Azat will be able to use this opportunity after his release.

The Azat Miftakhov Committee

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Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War – Program – July 5-6, 2022

In view of the unprecedented brutality and destructiveness of Russia’s criminal aggression against Ukraine, we have renamed our event, that was originally announced before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, into “Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War”. As we continue to fight for Azat’s release from prison, we stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian mathematicians and the people of Ukraine who suffer the terrible brunt of the war.

The Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday July 5-6, 2022, in solidarity with Azat Miftakhov, a mathematics graduate student from the Moscow State University who has been arbitrarily imprisoned by Russian state authorities since February 2019.

This event is sponsored by the French (SMF and SMAI), European, Belgian and Catalan Mathematical Societies. It is also announced by the American Mathematical Society and the London Mathematical Society.

Registration is mandatory by filling out the form here.

Tuesday July 5, 2022 from 4pm to 7pm Central European Summer Time (UTC+2) – online

4 pm Opening remarks

4:10 pm Alexander Petrov (MPIM)
Title: Representations of Galois groups and families of algebraic varieties (abstract)

5:10 pm Ilya Dumanski (MIT)
Title: Schubert varieties in the Beilinson-Drinfeld Grassmannian (abstract, slides)

6:10 pm Slava Rychkov (IHES)
Title: “Bootstrap” method in physics and mathematics (abstract, slides)

Wednesday July 6, 2022 from 5pm to 7pm Central European Summer Time (UTC+2) – hybrid

A panel to assess the human rights situation in Russia through the cases of persecuted academics, coorganized by the Azat Miftakhov Committee and the prominent Russian NGO Memorial Human Rights Center. The panel will make a special emphasis on the Russian academics and students persecuted for opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine.

For technical reasons related to the hybrid nature of the event, this panel is transferred to the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHES) in Paris. Instructions to access IHES are available here.

We are very pleased to announce the participation in this panel of

Chandler Davis, mathematician, University of Toronto

Alexander Cherkasov, Chair of the Council of the Memorial Human Rights Centre

Fabien Durand, President of the French Mathematical Society

Elena Gorban, Azat Miftakhov’s wife

Anatoly Vershik, former president of the St. Petersburg Mathematical Society, member of the European Academy of Sciences, chief researcher of the St. Petersburg section of the Steklov Institute of Mathematics of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Barry Mazur, mathematician, the Gerhard Gade University Professor at Harvard University, member of Scholars at Risk Harvard

Grigory Durnovo, OVD-info

Maria Menshikova DOXA

Vera Chelishcheva, independent journalist 

Ilya Nuzov, Head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, specializes in countries of the former Soviet Union

Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International Moscow Office Director

Martin Andler, mathematician, Université de Versailles St Quentin, for Memorial France

Registration is mandatory by filling out the form here.

Further information will be available on caseazatmiftakhov.org

The Azat Miftakhov Committee

#StandWithUkraine  🇺🇦

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Azat Miftakhov kept for a week in isolation on the pretext of being threatened by other prisoners

Azat’s lawyer reports that on May 1, Azat told the head of his labor detachment at the prison colony that he declined to participate in the prisoners’ parade for the upcoming May 9 Victory Day celebration. While Azat was told that participation in the parade was voluntary, on May 6, a prison officer summoned Azat and told him that the authorities allegedly received a threat of attack on Azat by other prisoners. As a result, Azat was placed in isolation in a medical unit, where he remained until May 12. At that time Azat was asked to sign two statements, one saying that he received no threats from other prisoners and the other saying that nothing threatened his health. Azat refused to sign these statements and was released in the general population of the colony.

According to Azat’s lawyer, he indeed received no threats from other prisoners, and the episode appears to have been concocted by the authorities to isolate him from other inmates in preparation for the May 9 celebration.

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A military appeals court leaves the verdict in the case of Kansk teens unchanged

On May 16 a military appeals court left unchanged the sentences in the case of three Kansk teens. The three boys, who were 14-year old at the time, were originally arrested in June 2020 in Kansk while putting leaflets in support of Azat Miftakhov on the wall of a local FSB office. They were later charged with trumped up “terrorism” offenses. On February 10, 2020 a military court in Kansk sentenced Nikita Uvarov, who, like Azat, denied any guilt from the start, to five years in prison. The other two boys, Bogdan Andreyev and Denis Mikhailenko, who initially admitted some guilt under coercion, received suspended sentences of four and three years. After the May 16 appeals  court ruling, Nikita Uvarov is expected to shortly be transferred to a juvenile penal colony to serve his sentence.