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Doctors Charged with Fomenting 'Velvet Revolution' in Iran

By Kamin Mohammadi,

Arash and Kamiar Alaei are brothers from Kermanshah in Western Iran who have pushed boundaries in the Islamic Republic's approach to and treatment of AIDS and even helped change national drugs policy. I have been aware of their work for many years, since first writing about Iran's epidemic of heroin addiction for the Financial Times magazine.

Kamiar and Arash Alaei being interviewed in Washington
(October 2006, RFE/RL)

Their innovative approach - treating drug addiction along with STDs and HIV in 'triangle clinics' - soon spread from one clinic in their hometown of Kermanshah, to 65 such clinics around Iran and soon expanded into Afghanistan and Central Asia. Their work has been recognized by international bodies such as the World Health Organization and Kamiar has been studying in the US for the past few years, where he was awarded an MSc by Harvard School of Public Health last year and is currently a doctoral student at SUNY in Albany.

The brothers were arrested in Iran at the end of June and there has been no news of them until now. Their family and lawyers have had no access to them. The story from the IHT is the first news to come out of Iran about the brothers.

I have been writing about drug addiction and HIV in my homeland for many years now and I have seen how, in the space of a few years, drug policy in Iran has changed from merely punitive to preventative. There are now clean needle programs in all the jails in the country - where the majority of addicts end up and where most contract HIV by sharing needles - and in fact the Islamic Republic's drug laws now rival countries such as Switzerland and the UK in the enlightenment of their approach.

Much of this can be credited to the tireless work of the Alaei brothers and others like them who run NGOs that are struggling to deal with this epidemic. This is the link to another article of mine that sheds more light on this topic.

Kamiar Alaei is a friend. We met at a conference in New York - one of the sorts of conferences the IR of Iran claims the brothers used to recruit people to topple the Iranian regime. Kamiar did not only not try to recruit me to anything, but in fact he became a friend not only because of his commitment and dedication to his work and countrymen, but also because of our shared Kurdish roots and his light-hearted personality. We joked and laughed, he sang me Kurdish songs, and we had a lot of fun. Talk never turned to politics and he was nothing but an inspiration to those of us seeking to help our country, certainly not a revolutionary seeking to overthrow the regime. Like many brave and inspired people I have met in Iran, Kamiar was adept at working within the system in Iran and outside it, expert at dodging any questions that could have a political bent or interpretation and therefore compromise his position back at home.

The last time I saw Kamiar he made the long trek from Albany to Manhattan to take me to lunch. I asked him then if the research he was engaged in in the US would cause him any trouble in Iran. He laughed off the idea, saying that all he was interested in was carrying out public health research and gathering knowledge to better help his countrymen, or anyone in the world suffering from drug addiction and its consequences, such as HIV. He could not imagine that this could in any way be interpreted as a threat to national security. We planned projects that would help bring a degree of comfort to some of those their clinics treated - projects that all revolved around disciplines such as yoga - and I promised that on my next visit to Iran I would work as a volunteer yoga teacher and counselor at their newest clinic - a women's only clinic in deprived southern Tehran. Kamiar was excited about this clinic as was I and we were full of plans and ideas, not just for Iran but also for their new clinics in Iraqi Kurdistan where they were also expanding their work to help those Kurds still suffering from Saddam' chemical attacks.

I cannot imagine that my friend and his brother, who have devoted their lives to helping the people of our country, could pose any possible threat to it. I cannot speak for the Islamic Republic's motives nor can I pretend to have any intimate knowledge of the brothers' activities. But I think the sterling work of the Alaei brothers should be able to speak for itself.

Please sign the Physicians for Human Rights petition and visit the Facebook group: Kamiar and Arash Alaei Information Group for suggestions of how to help and the latest information on the brothers.

About the author:
Kamin Mohammadi is an Iranian writer, journalist, broadcaster and commentator who lives in London where she moved after leaving Iran as a child. She specializes in writing about Iran, particularly modern society.  She is passionate about bringing out the human elements of the stories we see, or more often don't see, in the news. To this end she has published major pieces on the after effects of the Iran-Iraq war, drug addiction and AIDS in Iran, the innocent civilian victims of chemical bombardments, sexual politics and even the Iranian penchant for both devotion to religion and partying. She is currently writing a family memoir about Iran, to be published early 2008 and working on a cross-media project to commemorate the Iran-Iraq war. In the past she has written guide books and edited glossy magazines. Her archive can be viewed on her website

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