Campaigners seek release of Iranian doctors

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 16 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1699
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1London

    Concern is growing for the welfare of two doctors who have been held without charge in Iran for almost three months. The two brothers, Arash and Kamiar Alaei, are both world renowned specialists in HIV and infectious diseases. Kamiar is currently a PhD candidate in New York, while Arash had been scheduled to speak at the recent international AIDS conference in Mexico City, where numerous demonstrators drew attention to his absence.

    For more than a decade the Alaei brothers have fought for the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections and for drug related harm reduction to be integrated into Iran’s national healthcare system.

    The brothers’ work with drug addicts and prostitutes in Tehran featured in a BBC television documentary, Mohammed and the Matchmaker, in which Kamiar said: “We face a huge potential HIV problem in Iran, and in order to start to confront it we need to talk about the root causes. It is not easy to talk about sexual matters in what is still a very traditional country.”

    In addition to their work in Iran the brothers have held training courses for Afghan and Tajik medical workers and have encouraged regional cooperation among 12 Middle Eastern and central Asian countries.

    The brothers had been held incommunicado up to last week, when they were finally allowed to speak to family members and briefly had access to a lawyer, although it is still not clear exactly why they are being held. Speculation in the Iranian media suggests that they have been accused of attempting to undermine national security and of recruiting members to a conspiracy to overthrow the state.

    Physicians for Human Rights has been leading a campaign for the brothers’ release. Its chief executive, Frank Donaghue, said, “If international media reports are accurate, then these charges are illegitimate and politically motivated. The prosecutor has stated in interviews that the Alaei brothers have participated in a so called ‘velvet revolution.’

    “[What is] the evidence he has cited? These doctors have travelled globally to participate in AIDS conferences, drawn the attention of international NGOs [non-governmental organisations], and trained people in public health. These are not crimes—this is good medicine.”

    Mr Donahue pointed out that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad will be in New York on 23-25 September for the United Nations general assembly, which will focus on the UN millennium development goals. He said, “It would be an important signal if the Alaei brothers were released prior to this occasion, when the spotlight will be on progress toward global health and the human rights necessary to achieve these goals.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1699