On Wednesday January 21st the Islamic Republic of Iran sentenced two men to six and three years in prison for their involvement in an alleged American plot to overthrow the government.  The government accused these two men, along with two other defendants, of traveling to the United States, cooperating with American intelligence agents, and organizing protests and civil unrest on their return to Iran. Despite the serious nature of these charges, the trial was conducted in stark contrast with international standards: not all of the charges were disclosed to the defendants and prosecutor withheld evidence from the defense.  Trials like this one are all too common in Iran and they often target prominent Iranian academics and activists.
The two defendants in this case were brothers Arash and Kamiar Alaei.  The Alaei brothers are internationally recognized doctors working to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS in Iran.  According to the World Health Organization Iran has one of the best HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs in the world, largely due to the work of the Alaei brothers.  So why are Drs. Arash and Kamiar Alaei facing charges of treason?
According to the LA Times, the charges appear to be the result of the Alaei’s attendance at a medical conference in Washington DC sponsored by the U.S. State Department that discussed infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS.  The limited Iranian diplomatic staff in Washington was aware of the conference and even invited participating Iranian medical professionals to a dinner event while they were in town.  Clearly the Iranian authorities did not consider the conference to be part of an American conspiracy at the time.
Various international organizations have expressed their dismay with Iran’s handling of the case.  Amnesty International considers the brothers to be prisoners of conscious because “they appear to have been imprisoned solely in relation to their work with international and specifically US institutions in the field of HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment”.  Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians Without Borders, has stated “To all appearances, the arrest and now the trial of these two prominent and widely-traveled AIDS doctors seem to be an effort to shut the door on medical and public health collaboration on global health crises…a policy that is dangerous for the well-being of the Iranian people and for global health.”
The arrest of the Alaei brothers has dangerous implications for the future of Iran’s relationship with the rest the world, and with the United States in particular. The Alaeis’ case is indicative of the Iranian government’s harassment of Iranian activists and scholars who have connections with the West. This harassment only serves to further isolate Iranian society from the world community and punish the Iranian people.  The Alaei’s are not the only victims of this ruling; anyone in Iran who is at risk of HIV/AIDS will suffer too.  If Iran wants to be accepted as a member of the international community, it will have to stop persecuting its citizens whose only crime is reaching out across borders as they work for the betterment of their own society.

You can sign a petition asking for the release of the Alaei brothers at iranfreethedocs.org.

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