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Azat Miftakhov transferred from Moscow prison to SIZO-1 in Kirov

It is with great sadness that we learned today that Azat Miftakhov has just been moved from the Moscow pre-trial detention center at Butyrka and began the journey to the prison colony where he is to serve the remainder of his six-year sentence. This development comes after a Moscow court on June 9, 2021 dismissed Azat’s appeal against the verdict and sentence handed down in his case. Azat’s sentence and continued imprisonment constitute a profound and shocking miscarriage of justice and cannot be allowed to stand. The international mathematical community, particularly its main representative body, the International Mathematical Union, and all other people of good will need to continue to call for an immediate release of Azat Miftakhov by the Russian authorities. On this difficult day we stand in solidarity with Azat and affirm our commitment to fighting for his freedom.


The Azat Miftakhov Committee

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“Attempts to link scientific activities to political and societal issues”: Boycotts, politics, and the creation of the International Mathematical Union.

In their statement issued February 26, 2021, in response to the arrests and detention of Russian mathematicians, and specifically to Azat Miftakhov’s sentence to six years in a penal colony, the IMU Executive Committee asserted that their position has always been to “oppose all boycotts of scientific events and all attempts to link scientific activities to political and societal issues.”  

In his recent lecture to the Sociedade Brasileira de Lógica, historian of mathematics Michael Barany calls this “a phenomenally historically ignorant statement.”  “To the contrary,” he continues, “the International Congresses and the International Mathematical Union directly came from and function as attempts to link science and politics.”  Barany’s talk, just over an hour long, reminds us of this history.

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“Stand Against Absurdity and Unfairness”: Mathematicians Support Political Prisoner Azat Miftakhov

[This is an English version of an article that appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on June 29, 2021]

by Allyn Jackson

Last week mathematicians around the world joined in an expression of solidarity with one of its young members, 28-year-old Azat Miftakhov, a political prisoner in Russia.  He has been jailed for the past two and a half years and now faces a six-year prison term. 

A total of about 1.660 people tuned in to the live broadcast of the event, the Azat Miftakhov Day, which took place on Wednesday 16 June 2021 (the videos are now posted on YouTube).  Organized by the Miftakhov Committee, an international group of ten mathematicians, the event combined three mathematics lectures with information about Miftakhov’s case and expressions of concern and outrage by mathematicians from several countries.

“This is one of our colleagues, a member of our community, with whom we have shared work and mathematical dreams,” said Cédric Villani in his impassioned opening statement for the event.  Villani, who in 2010 received the Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics, now serves in the French National Assembly.  Focusing on Miftakhov could aid the approximately 100,000 prisoners of conscience the world over, he said.  “Mathematicians and scientists always have to stand against absurdity and unfairness.”

Born in the Russian republic of Tatarstan in 1993, Miftakhov showed early talent in mathematics and went on to study at Moscow State University, one of Russia’s major centers for mathematics.  As a student he got involved in anarchist movements.  By 2018 he had done brilliant work in probability theory and stochastic processes and was well on his way to get his PhD when he was suddenly arrested in February 2019, on charges of building explosives.

Three days later, the police, lacking evidence to support the charges, released Miftakhov—only to re-arrest him the same day, this time charging him with breaking a window of a building of the United Russia political party. The window had been broken more than a year before.  Two witnesses, whose identities have been kept secret, provided testimony.  One of the witnesses died in January 2020 and therefore could not be cross-examined.

“Does it not sound like a joke?” said Villani of the case against Miftakhov.  But it is no joke.  The trial took place in the last few months of 2020.  In January this year he was sentenced to six years in a penal colony on charges of “hooliganism” stemming from political hatred.  Throughout Miftakhov has steadfastly maintained his innocence.  He said he has been beaten and tortured, and human rights representatives have confirmed signs of this on his body.

After Alexei Navalny, Miftakhov is probably the best known political prisoner in Russia.  Two online petitions demand Miftakhov’s release: one in Russia has 86.000 signatures, and the other has 3.200 signatures of mathematicians from fifteen countries.  In January 2021, fifty members of the Russian Academy of Sciences signed a letter calling for the release of Miftakhov. Mathematical societies in Brazil, England, France, Italy, and the United States have made statements protesting his incarceration, as have human rights organizations.

One of the Russian mathematicians rallying to the cause is Anatoly Vershik, a professor in the St. Petersburg branch of the Steklov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Born in 1933, Vershik spent much of his life under the Soviet system. It is obvious that the court had no proof of unlawful activity by Miftakhov, said Vershik in his presentation for Miftakhov Day.  Russia is “returning to a Soviet, Stalinist system and drifting further and further from a civilized norm.  Miftakhov’s case is an obvious demonstration of this fact.”

Russia has a stellar mathematical history.  The field flourished in the Soviet years, when mathematics provided a refuge for some of the nation’s most brilliant minds.  The Russian mathematical tradition was greatly weakened when many of the best mathematicians left after the fall of the USSR.  Recognizing the rebuilding of Russian mathematics over the past few decades, the International Mathematical Union (IMU) decided to hold its quadrennial congress in St. Petersburg in 2022.  The congress is the most important international event in mathematics and includes the awarding of the Fields Medals.

In January this year, 47 mathematicians, including the ten members of the Miftakhov Committee, signed a letter to the organizers of the congress.  “Attending the congress while our colleague Azat Miftakhov is arbitrarily detained will pose a serious dilemma for us and for the entire mathematical community,” they wrote.

While imprisoned Miftakhov has been able to do mathematical work, partly through correspondence with Russian mathematician Alexander Bufetov of the Institut de Mathématiques in Marseille and the Steklov Institute in Moscow.  Bufetov was one of the mathematical lecturers for the Miftakhov Day.  Before starting his lecture he looked straight into the camera and said the word “freedom” in eight languages.  One was Miftakhov’s native tongue of Tatar, where the word is “azatlyk”; his given name, Azat, means “free”.

The other mathematical lecturers were German mathematician and Fields Medalist Peter Scholze of the Universität Bonn and the Max-Planck-Institut für Mathematik in Bonn, and Ukrainian mathematician Maryna Viazovska of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

A week before Miftakhov Day, mathematicians received the grim news that Moscow City Court had denied Miftakhov’s final appeal.  He will be transferred to a penal colony any day now.  “I was more hopeful before the horrible six-year verdict,” said Bufetov.  But he and his colleagues are not giving up.

“We will not let go until Azat is free,” said Miftakhov Committee member Ahmed Abbes, a researcher at the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques outside Paris.  “Our community’s long tradition of defending human rights has demonstrated that stubbornness pays off.”

Allyn Jackson is a freelance writer and editor with over 30 years of experience and a specialty in mathematics and theoretical computer science. She served as a senior writer and deputy editor of the Notices of the AMS.

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The Committee of Concerned Scientists: “Gifted Mathematician Sentenced to Six Years for Alleged Act of Vandalism”

The Committee of Concerned Scientists, a premier international science human rights group, released an informational statement about Azat’s case and the Azat Miftakhov Day, and posted a letter, dated June 28, 2021, to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The letter urges a “pardon and rapid release” of Azat and notes that the committee will closely follow further developments in the case.

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Strafkolonie und Folter für eine zerbrochene Fensterscheibe

Der russische Mathematiker Azat Miftakhov muss sechs Jahre in Haft, Menschenrechtler vermuten dahinter politische Gründe. Nun regt sich Widerstand von Top-Mathematikern gegen das Urteil.

Von Allyn Jackson in der Süddeutsche Zeitung am 29 Juni 2021

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Azat Miftakhov and Elena Gorban married on June 23

On June 23, Azat Miftakhov and his co-defendant in the “broken window case”, Elena Gorban, got married, as was reported by the DOXA News  and the FreeAzat! Telegram channel. The Azat Miftakhov Committee expresses warm congratulations to Azat and Elena on the occasion of their marriage. We have sent Azat a congratulatory postcard using the FSIN-PISMO service, a copy of which is included below.

Уважаемый Азат!
От имени международного комитета математиков по вашей поддержке, поздравляю вас и Елену Горбань с заключением брака! Надеюсь что в недалеком будущем вам удастся свадьбу повторить и отпраздновать в значительно более приятных и тому соответствующих условиях.
С наилучшими пожеланиями,
Илья Капович, профессор математики, Хантер Колледж, Нью-Йорк

Dear Azat!
On behalf of the international committee of mathematicians in your support, I congratulate you and Elena Gorban on your marriage! I hope that in the near future you will be able to repeat and celebrate your marriage ceremony in much nicer and more appropriate conditions.
With best wishes,

Ilya Kapovich, Professor of Mathematics, Hunter College, New York

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Videos of the Azat Miftakhov Day

The Azat Miftakhov Day took place on Wednesday June 16, 2021.

It was organized online by the Azat Miftakhov committee and sponsored by Société Mathématique de France (SMF), in solidarity with Azat Miftakhov, a graduate student from Moscow State University who has been arbitrarily detained by Russian state authorities for almost two years and half.

Ahmed Abbes (CNRS & IHES, member of the Azat Miftakhov Committee)

Introduction

Cédric Villani (mathematician, member of the French Academy of Sciences and member of the French National Assembly)

Opening speech (pdf)

The case Azat Miftakhov

Maryna Viazovska (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)

Sphere packings, universal optimality, and Fourier interpolation (abstract)

Alexander Bufetov (CNRS & Institut de Mathématiques de Marseille, France & Steklov, IITP RAS, Russia)

Determinantal point processes: quasi-symmetries, minimality and interpolation (abstract)

Peter Scholze (Universität Bonn, Germany)

Condensed Mathematics (abstract)

Ilya Kapovich (Hunter College of CUNY, member of the Azat Miftakhov Committee)

Closing remarks (pdf)

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Azat Miftakhov Day: honoring a Russian graduate student unjustly imprisoned

For most of the second half of the 20th century, Russian mathematics enjoyed unrivaled prestige. In spite of, or perhaps because of, its relative isolation from the mathematical aristocracy in other parts of the world, the Moscow mathematical school was for over 40 years consistently the source of breathtakingly original ideas in every research area, pure and applied, with smaller cohorts in Leningrad and elsewhere not far behind.  Children who displayed unusual talent or interest would be offered spots in specialized schools, where they would be given intensive training, often by world-famous scholars.  The few duties required of professional mathematicians left them ample time for research; they presented their work and exchanged notes on the latest mathematical news in seminars that went on for hours, ending only when the cleaning staff chased them out into the icy Moscow night.  

The Moscow school continued to thrive even after the departure of some of its leaders, in the first postwar wave of emigration of Soviet Jews; it was still the hottest ticket on the math circuit when one of us spent the year of 1989-90 at Moscow’s Steklov Institute on an academic exchange. The combination of elitism and camaraderie at the Steklov was unlike anything he had encountered in other mathematical capitals. A few years later that spirit survived, but mainly in places like Chicago, Cambridge, and Paris, after the breakup of the USSR made it both possible to leave and increasingly impossible to survive on a Russian researcher’s salary.

Russian schools continue to discover brilliant math students, and in recent years the authorities, together with some of the most distinguished expatriate Russian mathematicians, have taken some steps aimed at reviving the tradition and at encouraging expatriates to spend at least some time in their home country. Crowning these efforts is the planned hosting of the 2022 International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in St. Petersburg.  The ICM, by far the most comprehensive of all international mathematical events, has been meeting every four years (more or less) since 1897, only interrupted by the World Wars.  Dozens of lectures report on the most striking recent developments in the field, and the host country gets to show off its cultural as well as mathematical accomplishments. St. Petersburg’s organizers won the right to hold the 2022 meeting with the help of generous support from the Russian government, including visa-free entry to all participants, and with reports of Putin’s intention to attend the opening ceremony in person.

But the reality of the current situation in Russia is far less rosy than this picture might suggest, and not all Russian mathematicians who wish to partake in the ICM festivities will be able to do so. As matters stand, to name one prominent example, the young mathematician Azat Miftakhov will not be attending the ICM in St. Petersburg.  Russia’s deep mathematical traditions have coexisted with a no less deep tradition of dissent. Sometimes these traditions have manifested in the same person. The logician Yuri Shikhanovich and the cyberneticist Leonid Plyushch were interned in psychiatric hospitals in the 1970s for their activities in the Soviet dissident movement. This approach to dissent has been revived in the treatment of Miftakhov, who has spent the last two and a half years in a Russian prison. His appeal of the sentence was rejected on June 9, and he is on schedule to be finishing his first year of a six-year sentence in a penal colony on the opening day of the ICM, when the prestigious Fields Medals are being handed out, possibly by Putin himself.   

Miftakhov’s doctoral studies at Moscow State University were interrupted in February 2019 when he was arrested by police and charged with manufacturing explosives. At the police station he was tortured but after three days the court threw out the case for lack of evidence. He was released but was rearrested before leaving the police station; this time he was charged with having participated in a plot more than a year earlier to break a window at an office of President Putin’s United Russia Party. Miftakhov pleaded not guilty, but this January 18, a Moscow court pronounced the six-year prison sentence, on the basis of testimony by two secret “witnesses” — one of whom claimed to have identified the masked Miftakhov by his “expressive brows,” and who died several months before the trial. The other two defendants, who admitted their guilt while denying that Miftakhov was involved in the incident, received suspended sentences of between two and four years.

After Alexei Navalny, Azat Miftakhov is probably the best known of all political prisoners in Russia; the Russian human rights organization “Memorial” had recognized his political prisoner status as early as 2019.  Two petitions in his support had been published by the time of his January sentencing: one in Russia had gathered more than 86000 signatures, while a second petition was signed by more than 3000 mathematicians from 15 countries. While waiting for the court to announce its verdict, academicians, professors, and corresponding members of the Russian Academy of Sciences had published an open letter calling on the court to release Miftakhov.  Human Rights Watch declared after the verdict that “Azat Miftakhov’s conviction is clearly unjust and unfair, and authorities should immediately and unconditionally overturn it.” 

Mathematicians around the world were shocked by the court’s decision.  Just before the court announced his sentence in January, 47 mathematicians sent a letter concerning his case to the members of the ICM Organizing Committee. The Hadamard Doctoral School of Mathematics at Paris-Saclay University issued a statement on March 4, 2021 naming Azat Miftakhov an honorary student and inviting him to complete his doctorate in Paris once he is released. Many professional associations, including the national mathematical societies in the US, UK, France, Brazil, Italy, and Spain, have issued public statements expressing their concern about his case. 

These same learned societies have agreed to designate June 16 Azat Miftakhov Day.  Over 100 colleagues around the world registered for a high-level virtual conference in his honor, with four presentations by distinguished mathematicians, including two former Fields Medalists; more than 1000 additional colleagues watched the conference streamed live on YouTube.

In the 1970s an international committee of mathematicians, primarily in France and the United States, mobilized successfully for the liberation of Shikhanovich and Plyutsch. The mathematicians signing this article have created the Azat Miftakhov Committee, in the hope of bringing about Miftakhov’s liberation.  By sheer coincidence, Azat Miftakhov Day is also the day that was chosen for the planned Geneva summit between Presidents Biden and Putin. We hope the U.S. delegation found time to bring Azat Miftakhov Day  — the very day of their meeting — to the attention of their Russian counterparts, noting that efforts to rebuild Russian mathematics will not be successful if young mathematicians are treated as Azat Miftakhov is being treated.

The Azat Miftakhov Committee

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Free Azat Miftakhov

Sign the petition set by the Moscow State University students and staff.

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Michèle Audin: For the release of Azat Miftakhov – because science needs freedom

Michèle Audin, who supports Azat Miftakhov received an invitation from the Russian media RT to collaborate, as an expert and speaker, on a documentary dedicated to the “exceptional Russian mathematician” Sofia Kovalevskaya (and offering her, not a salary or remuneration, but a “reward”). She replied to RT that she had searched in vain on their site for information about Azat Miftakhov, adding:

“Depending on the skills you recognize me on Sofia Kovalevskaya, I sincerely believe that what this mathematician would do today would be to defend this colleague. We mathematicians are not looking for ‘rewards’ as you elegantly say, but for freedom – because how can we imagine doing science without freedom?”

Read Michèle Audin’s post on her Mediapart Blog.