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“Iranian AIDS doctors continued work behind bars”

Nature.com today posts an interview by Priya Shetty with Dr. Kamiar Alaei, given during the recent International AIDS Society meetings in Rome.

Excerpt:

Q) Did you ever think you would be in prison one day yourself?
A) Never. We never expected to be arrested. The worst scenario we imagined if the new government was not happy with our work was that they would tell us not to continue. We would then have asked them how they wanted us to implement or design our programmes. We would have adapted.

The interview highlights both the important work the Alaeis did prior to their detention, and the work they continued in prison. Please sign the petition to demand the release of Dr. Arash Alaei.

Cross-posted from Blog 4 Global Health, the blog of the Global Health Council’s Policy, Research and Advocacy team. Post by David Jolson.

ROME — In the opening cermonies of the Sixth IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention here last night, Elly Katabira, the international conference chair and current president of the International AIDS Society, decried the continuing imprisonment of Arash Alaei, one of the two Iranian physician-brothers who won the Global Health Council’s Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights at our annual conference last month.

“We, at the IAS, consider human rights for HIV professionals as one of our priorities. This is why I could not be addressing you tonight and not mention our friend doctor Arash Alaei, who has been detained in Iran since June 2008, for the only reason that he was trying to treat HIV-positive people in his home-country. There is no reason why HIV professionals around the world should be in prison only for doing their job, and we, all of us, demand his immediate release from prison.”

The other brother, Dr. Kamiar Alaei, released in October 2010, is here at the conference and will speak at two events on Tuesday — a satellite event organized by the Council and a press conference organized by Physicians for Human Rights where he will call for the release of his brother.

Physicians for Human Rights is planning a global day of action on July 19. They are asking people to sign a petition asking the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Dr. Arash immediately and have set up a website to facilitate that petition.

this profile of the brothers this week.

The New York Times published this profile of the brothers after they received the Jonathan Mann Award.

On Tuesday, July 19th, 2011, PHR and International AIDS Society will convene a press conference in Rome, Italy at 10-10:45 a.m., with recently released physician and AIDS program innovator, Dr. Kamiar Alaei. He will describe his work on the widely acclaimed “triangular clinics” he pioneered with his brother in Iran; discuss his experiences in prison between 2008 and 2011; and make a public appeal for the release of his imprisoned brother, Dr. Arash Alaei.

Dr. Kamiar Alaei is former co-founding director of the first triangular clinic in Iran. In June 2011, he received the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights from the Global health Council. He has traveled to Rome to attend the 6th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention from 17-20 July 2011 and advocate for his brother’s 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.

The Alaei brothers were arrested in June 2008 and wrongfully convicted in January 2009 on charges of communicating with an enemy government. Their crime? Traveling to international AIDS conferences and liaising with health workers to find solutions to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Kamiar, sentenced to three years, was quietly released in late 2010 after spending 870 days in prison in Iran. Arash, however, was sentenced to six years in prison and today remains imprisoned in Evin Prison in Tehran after three long years.

Moderating the press conference will be Susannah Sirkin, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights. She has organized human rights investigations and advocated for imprisoned colleagues for more than 25 years at Physicians for Human Rights.

Representatives of the International AIDS Society and the Global Health Council will briefly speak as well.

For media access and credential information, please visit the Media Center page of the IAS Conference website.

For further information contact:

In Boston:
Kelly Bienhoff
PHR Program Associate
kbienhoff [at] phrusa [dot] org
+1 617 301 4215
In Rome:
Susannah Sirkin
PHR Deputy Director
ssirkin [at] phrusa [dot] org
+1 617 999 9728

“In Iran, a Brotherhood of Doctors and Patients”

The New York Times‘ Tina Rosenberg wrote a post about the Alaeis in her Opinionator Blog on June 20. She says:

Few doctors anywhere in the world have done their country a greater service than the Iranian brothers Arash and Kamiar Alaei. Kamiar, who is 37, is currently living in Albany, N.Y., where he is working on a doctorate in public health. Arash, who is 42, is a resident of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison — where until recently, Kamiar lived as well.

PHR’s efforts on the brothers’ behalf are also noted:

Physicians for Human Rights organized prominent AIDS experts in 80 countries to sign petitions, write letters and lobby for them. The brothers did not know about any of this. Arash didn’t even realize that Kamiar had been arrested until several months later, when they went to trial.

Read more at the blog.

Last evening in Washington DC, Doctor Kamiar Alaei was present to accept the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights Award on behalf of himself and his brother, Doctor Arash Alaei. PHR continues to call for the release of Arash from Iran’s Evin prison in Tehran. The award aims to highlight the vital link between health and human rights, and honors . The award is given out annually by the Global Health Council in memory of Dr. Jonathan Mann, the first director of UNAIDS and prominent public health visionary.

PHR salutes the courage and conviction of the two brothers on receiving this prestigious award in recognition of all of the important work that they have done to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS – both in Iran and globally. We hope that Iranian authorities will release Dr. Arash Alaei promptly so that he also can return to his vital medical work.
~ Susannah Sirkin, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights.

The brothers were apparently targeted by the government for their work traveling the world and liaising with health workers across the globe to find solutions to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They focused on overcoming stigma and discrimination against injection drug users and helped to develop and implement Iran’s enlightened policies on needle exchange. The Iranian government used the doctors’ travel to international AIDS conferences and meetings with colleagues in the United States as a basis for their charges.

The brothers were in Tehran visiting their family prior to their planned participation in the 2008 global HIV/AIDS conference in Mexico City, when they were arrested by Iranian authorities. The Alaeis were wrongfully convicted of “communications with an enemy government [USA]” and “seeking to overthrow the Iranian government” in 2008. Arash was sentenced to six years in prison and Kamiar was sentenced to three years. Kamiar was released a few months ago but Arash is still being detained. During the 18 months prior to Kamiar’s release, the brothers had been released for short furloughs.

Since their arrests in June 2008 an international campaign spearheaded by PHR has called for their release, engaging hundreds of leading AIDS experts, health organizations, and thousands of supporters from more than 80 countries.

“PHR, along with colleagues, classmates, and prominent leaders in the global AIDS and public health communities, have advocated for the release of Arash and Kamiar for more than three years, and we only wish that Arash could join in this celebration with Kamiar.
~ Susannah Sirkin

Since their arrests, the Alaeis’ colleagues and classmates campaigned vigorously on their behalf, gaining the support of the World Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the World Health assembly, the International AIDS Society, numerous academic institutions, leading AIDS researchers, and more. Together with other doctors and public health workers in dozens of countries around the world they organized Global Days of Action and contacted Iranian embassies to press for the release of the Alaei brothers. PHR organized the campaign to free the Alaeis; see background here.

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