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News | Award for Alaei Brothers, HIV Advocates and Ex-Political Prisoners

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI

24 Jul 2012 18:57Comments
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Physicians were jailed for conducting health training supposedly part of a "velvet revolution."

[ news ] In a ceremony held at the opening session of the 19th International Aids Conference in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Dr. Arash Alaei and his brother, Dr. Kamiar Alaei, were presented with the inaugural Elizabeth Taylor Award in Recognition of Efforts to Advocate for Human Rights in the Field of HIV. The brothers, born in Iran and now residents of Albany, New York, were honored with the award, sponsored by the International AIDS Society and amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, for their "pioneering work in HIV prevention and treatment for people who use drugs in Iran and for [their] outstanding courage and efforts to advocate for human rights of people affected by HIV."

The brothers Alaei, both physicians, have long worked on efforts to prevent the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and auto-immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in Iran. Beginning in 1986, they tried to integrate prevention and care of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as drug-related harm reduction, into Iran's national healthcare system. Kamiar, 38, is a former executive director of Iran's Pars Institute, which is devoted to prevention, care, and support for carriers of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Arash, 43, is a former director of the International Education and Research Cooperation of the Iranian National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Under his guidance, Iran instituted a nationwide needle-exchange program, distribution of free condoms in healthcare clinics across the country, and the establishment of methadone treatment centers in every province.

Arash Alaei was arrested in Tehran on June 28, 2008, and Kamiar on the following day. Weeks passed with no information on their whereabouts and fate until Hassan Zare Dehnavi, known as Judge Haddad, then Tehran's deputy prosecutor, announced,

A case has been filed whose defendants are two brothers. They held conferences on such topics as AIDS, which drew the attention of domestic and foreign organizations and NGOs. They would organize foreign trips for people and train them. They were aware of what they were doing, and their training was of the nature of a velvet revolution.

(Judge Haddad played a leading role in the crimes committed in the Kahrizak detention center in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election, which included the murders of at least four young detainees. He was suspended, and his case is still before the judiciary.)

The Alaeis spent 63 days in solitary confinement. Their arrest provoked international protests by leading academics, including several Nobel laureates, as well as the science journal Nature.

Originally charged with "communicating with an enemy government," they were later claimed to be part of a group linked to the United States whose aim was to overthrow the government. Right up until their show trials, the two brothers and their attorney were not allowed to see the complete case against them. Arash and Kamiar were eventually "convicted" and sentenced to six and three years of imprisonment, respectively. Kamiar served over two and a half years of his sentence and was released in December 2010, while his brother was released on August 29 last year. In October, the brothers taped an interview available here.

This is not the first time that the two brothers have been recognized for their outstanding work in combating HIV/AIDS and related health issues. In 2004, they were the subject of a BBC documentary, Mohammad and the Matchmaker. They received the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award from the New York Academy of Sciences in September 2009, and last June, the Global Health Council's Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. This past November, the School of Public Health at the State University of New York at Albany also honored the two brothers.

Since their release from prison and move to the United States, Arash and Kamiar Alaei have also been involved with the rights of the many political prisoners in Iran. They have been ardent supporters of the Green Movement, demonstrating their support in various ways, including wearing green mufflers at various ceremonies.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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