While the international community celebrates the release of detained US journalist Roxana Saberi, there is still continuing vigilance over the unjust imprisonments of Drs. Kamiar and Arash Alaei. These Iranian brothers are world-renowned HIV/AIDS physicians who were imprisoned since June by the Iranian government on unsubstantiated charges of communicating with an "enemy government."
Tomorrow, on May 12, Physicians for Human Rights and a coalition of organizations from more than 16 countries will hold a Global Day of Action calling on the Iranian government to drop the charges and immediately release Kamiar and Arash Alaei. Participants from around the world will make statements to Iranian authorities and join a live webcast of vigils and events on an interactive website, IranFreetheDocs.org.
The Alaei brothers traveled the world to share Iran's model of HIV prevention and treatment, not to recruit people to foment a "velvet revolution," as alleged by the Iranian government. Such allegations hurt the future of public health and indicate a dangerous trend toward punishing health professionals for working in the US.
Sarah Kalloch, Director of Outreach for PHR, said:
Physicians for Human Rights believes that treating AIDS is not a crime: it's good medicine. Just as Iran conflated freedom of the press with espionage in the trial of Saberi, Iran has equated public health diplomacy with treason in the case of the Alaeis. This is a terribly dangerous stance in an era of global pandemics which require open medical collaboration to save lives.
Jonathan Hutson, Chief Communications Officer at PHR, said:
The Alaeis are on their final appeal. Health workers and human rights advocates from 129 countries have signed a petition calling for their release. It's time for Iran to stand up and protect freedom of science - and the lives of Iranians - by releasing the Alaeis.
In January, Dr. Kamiar Alaei and his brother Dr. Arash Alaei were sentenced to prison terms of three and six years, respectively, in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. At no point has the Iranian prosecutor made public any shred of evidence to support his contention that the brothers were involved in any international activity other than the fight against global AIDS.
According to sources close to the Alaei brothers' case, the appellate court received their appeals on March 17 and the following day - without a hearing - summarily rejected their appeals and upheld their sentences.
Their attorney, Massoud Shaffiie, filed a final appeal on May 7 to Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi under Article 118 of the Iranian Constitution.
The case of these world-renowned HIV/AIDS physicians is part of a crackdown on international scientific and academic exchange which undermines efforts of all who seek to treat global AIDS and protect the health of the Iranian people. Their imprisonment robs the world of two talented physicians and has a chilling effect on public health dialogue and diplomacy worldwide. It appears that the jailing of people on trumped-up charges has more to do with appeasing the conservatives in advance of Iran's national elections in June.
Dr. Kamiar Alaei is a doctoral candidate at the SUNY Albany School of Public Health in Albany, New York and was expected to resume his studies there in 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.
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 been carrying out 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 helped earn Iran recognition as a model of best practice by the World Health Organization.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) mobilizes the health professions to advance the health and dignity of all people by protecting human rights. As a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
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