Two Years Too Long: Iranian AIDS Doctors Arash and Kamiar Alaei Still in Prison

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Mark Russell
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Two Years Too Long: Iranian AIDS Doctors Arash and Kamiar Alaei Still in Prison

VIENNA, Austria - As the XVIIIth International AIDS Conference begins in Vienna,
Austria, two prominent international voices remained silenced. In June
2008, Drs. Kamiar and Arash Alaei — Iranian brothers famous for working
with health workers across the globe to find solutions to the HIV/AIDS
pandemic — were arrested in Tehran before they were to appear at the
XVIIth International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The brothers remain
in jail, more than two years after their arrest.

Held without charges for six months, the brothers were eventually
accused of attempting to “foment a velvet revolution.” After a
perfunctory trial in December 2008, Kamiar and Arash were convicted of
“communicating with an enemy government” and sentenced to three and six
years, respectively, in Evin Prison in Tehran.

“Traveling to international HIV/AIDS conferences to help combat a
global pandemic is not grounds for imprisonment — it's simply good
medicine,” said Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights.
“HIV/AIDS knows no borders and demands a coordinated international
response, for the good of the Iranian people and all of us. Physicians
for Human Rights and the global AIDS community continue to call on the
Iranian government to release Drs. Arash and Kamiar.”

“This case sends an ominous signal regarding the Iranian government's
willingness to stifle international scientific exchange,” Donaghue
continued. “The charges are illegitimate and the case is marked by clear
violations of due process. Their trial lasted less than a day and
included secret charges and secret evidence their lawyer was unable to
see or refute.”

Since their arrest, the scientific and medical community has rallied
around the Alaeis. The World Medical Association, The American Medical
Association, The European Union, and The International AIDS Society have
all called for the Alaeis' release. Leading scientific publications
including Nature Magazine, The Lancet and the British
Medical Journal
have all condemned the Alaeis' conviction as a
violation of scientific freedom. Thousands of health professionals and
human rights activists from more than 80 countries have signed petitions
urging their release. At the conference in Vienna, supporters of the
Alaeis will continue to highlight the brother's unjust imprisonment.

“Physicians and medical professionals from across the globe stand in
solidarity with the Alaeis this week,” said Dr. Robert Laurence, Chair
of PHR's Board of Directors.

Dr. Kamiar Alaei was a doctoral candidate at the SUNY Albany School
of Public Health in Albany, New York at the time of his arrest, and was
expected to resume his studies there on the fall of 2008. In 2007, he
received a Master of Science degree in Population and International
Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Students and
faculty from both institutions have led efforts for the Alaeis' release.

Dr. Arash Alaei is the former director of the International Education
and Research Cooperation of the Iranian National Research Institute of
Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Since 1998, the Drs. Alaei have
spearheaded HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, particularly
focused on harm reduction for injecting drug users.

In addition to their work in Iran, the Alaei brothers have held
training courses for Afghan and Tajik medical workers and have worked to
encourage regional cooperation among 12 Middle Eastern and Central
Asian countries. Their efforts expanded the expertise of doctors in the
region, advanced the progress of medical science, and earned Iran
recognition as a model of best practice by the World Health
Organization.

The Alaeis were also named recipients of the 2009 Heinz R. Pagels
Human Rights of Scientists Award from the New York Academy of Sciences
in September 2009.

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PHR was founded in 1986 on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical duties, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them. PHR mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity, and justice and promotes the right to health for all.

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