January 8, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

by revere, cross-posted at Effect Measure

Many of you were readers here when science bloggers and scienceblogs in particular played a pivotal role in the case of the Tripoli 6, medics under sentence of death in Libya over trumped up charges of infecting children with HIV. Another urgent matter now confronts the worldwide scientific community involving two Iranian doctors. Declan Butler, Nature senior correspondent, has described the situation in a post at one of the Nature blogs:

Iran puts leading HIV scientists on trial

Posted on behalf of Declan Butler

Iran has summarily tried two of the nation’s HIV researchers with communicating with an “enemy government,” in a half-day trial that started and ended on 31 December in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. There will be no further court hearings, and a verdict is expected within days.

The brothers, Arash and Kamiar Alaei, who have achieved international acclaim for their progressive HIV-prevention programme, have been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since their arrest last June (see Nature story, subscription required). Kamiar, the younger of the brothers, holds a master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health and was to have resumed doctoral studies at the University of Albany’s School of Public Health in New York. Arash, former head of international education and research cooperation at the Iranian National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, runs a clinic in Tehran. The brothers are not thought to have been politically active.

Jonathan Hutson, a spokesman for the Washington-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), points out that the six-month detention itself breached human rights, as it was “largely incommunicado.” Moreover, whereas Iranian law forbids anyone to be held in detention for longer than four months without charges being brought, it only filed the charge of communicating with an “enemy government” in early December.

At the trial, the prosecution also indicted the men on new secret charges. The trial denied the men the right to defend themselves against the new accusations and the right to due process, says Hutson. “The trial was unfair even by the draconian standards of Iran’s penal code,” he says.

In August, the prosecutor publicly accused the men of fomenting a velvet revolution, arguing that they had collaborated with other scientists around the world, including some in the United States, attended international AIDS conferences, and met frequently with AIDS NGOs. “Those are not crimes, that’s good medicine,” says Hutson, adding that it has casts a chilling effect on academic collaboration between Iran and the rest of the world. IIn December, the US National Academies suspended visits to Iran after the temporary detention of one of its officials in Tehran (Nature).

Several human-rights organizations, including PHR and Amnesty International, have called on Iran to allow the men access to lawyers and the right to contest their detention before a judge. The call has been taken up by several scientific bodies, including the International AIDS Society, the Foundation for AIDS Research and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and thousands of scientists and physicians have signed an online petition.


You can take effective action by calling the Iranian Mission at the United Nations. Here’s the telephone number: 1-212-687-2020. PHR says they are being inundated with calls. Make yours one of them. If you call, here is what to do when you get through and what else you can do:

Urge Iran to release the Alaeis immediately. See the petition at http://actnow-phr.org/campaign/drop_the_charges for talking points. Feel free to add any details about how you know them, and to emphasize their great work on HIV/AIDS.- Sign the new petition on their behalf, urging Iran to stop this sham court proceeding and release the Alaeis. As soon as you sign on, an email with your message will be sent directly to the Iranian Mission to the UN, and will be added to a list of concerned citizens. We want to inundate the mission with calls for their release. Help us reach 500 signatures by the end of today!

Talking points for Call:

Introduce yourself and where you are calling from ex “My name is Paul and I am a doctor/medical student/health professional in Boston/Paris/Kampala etc.

Tell them why you are calling ex. “Treating AIDS is not a crime. Drs Alaei should be immediately released to continue their lifesaving work on HIV/AIDS for the people of Iran

Add any details about how you know Kamiar or Arash ex “I was a student with Kamiar at Harvard School of Public Health”

After you make the call, let us know by emailing skalloch [at] phrusa [dot] org


More than 3100 doctors, nurses and public health workers from more than 85 countries have signed an online petition. You can, too. It only takes a minute or so. The entire worldwide scientific community is now weighing in. You can, too.

In the case of the Tripoli 6 we helped to save the lives of innocent medical people. We can now help these two doctor scientists whose only crime seems to be practicing responsible science and medicine.

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