UPDATE: In the fall of 2010, Kamiar Alaei was quietly released from Evin Prison after serving two years of his three-year sentence. He lives in the US currently and works tirelessly for the release of his brother, Arash Alaei.
UPDATE 2: We are happy to report that in August 2011, Arash Alaei was also released from Evin Prison after more than three years in detention. He rejoined his mother and other family members in Tehran and anticipates the resumption of his life-saving work, as well as reuniting with his brother, Kamiar, and sister in the US.
Medical neutrality can affect medical professionals simply doing their jobs. When a government chooses to detain doctors without cause, and prevent them from treating patients and disseminating health information, the government puts both the doctors and their patients at risk, and violates medical neutrality.
Doctor Arash Alaei and Doctor Kamiar Alaei, two well-known Iranian physicians and HIV/AIDS leaders, were detained in June 2008 by Iranian authorities without cause and without charges or trial. The physicians, who are brothers, were held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for over six months before being tried. On December 31, 2008, a one-day, closed-door trial was held, in which the brothers were tried as conspirators working with an “enemy government” to overthrow the government of Iran. They were also tried at that time on unspecified other charges which neither they nor their lawyer were allowed to know, see the evidence of, or address.
On January 19, 2009, the Doctors Alaei were convicted and sentenced under charges of being in “communications with an enemy government” and “seeking to overthrow the Iranian government under article 508 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code”. Kamiar was sentenced to three years and Arash was sentenced to six.
The Alaeis’ crime: traveling the globe and liaising with health workers to find solutions to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The government used the doctors’ travel to international AIDS conferences as a basis for this charge — a dangerous conflation of public health diplomacy with treason that will harm Iran’s ability to be a worldwide medical leader and protect its people from disease and death.
The Alaeis’ Work in HIV/AIDS
Doctor Arash Alaei and Doctor Kamiar Alaei played a role in putting the issues of drug use and HIV/AIDS on Iran’s national health care agenda. They worked closely with government and religious leaders to ensure support for education campaigns on HIV transmission, including those targeting youth, and for HIV and harm reduction programs in prisons.
Since completing their medical training, the brothers worked in AIDS research in Iran, and along with other clinicians and advocates, helped make the country a leader in prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS. They played a part in the creation of Iran’s HIV/AIDS prison program, one of the best in the region if not the world. The program passes out condoms and syringes in the prisons, one of only a handful of countries globally doing so. The doctors also shared their knowledge with neighboring countries by holding training workshops for Afghan and Tajik health professionals.
At the time of their arrest, Kamiar was studying for his doctorate in public health at the State University of New York’s University at Albany School of Public Health, and both doctors were working with organizations in New York to share ideas on HIV and harm reduction best practices.
Following their arrest, the Alaeis’ colleagues and classmates campaigned vigorously on their behalf, gaining the support of the World Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the International AIDS society and more. Together with other doctors in dozens of countries around the world they worked with PHR to organize Global Days of Action, and contacted Iranian embassies to press for the release of the Alaei brothers. The New York Academy of Sciences also gave the Alaei brothers the 2009 Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award in honor of their work and their struggle for freedom.
The brothers were also awarded the 2011 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights, which Dr. Kamiar accepted on behalf of himself and Dr. Arash, at a ceremony in Washington DC.