January 29, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

by revere, cross-posted at Effect Measure

A powerful Editorial in today’s Nature (the world’s premier science publication) shines a strong light on a tragic violation of human rights in Iran involving two leading AIDS physicians, brothers Arash and Kamiar Alaei. We’ve posted about it twice (here and here). Declan Butler, a senior correspondent at Nature summarizes the story over at his blog:

Iran has sentenced two of the country’s HIV researchers to prison for communicating with an “enemy government” and plotting to overthrow the state. Arash and Kamiar Alaei, who are brothers, underwent a half-day trial on 31 December in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. Kamiar was sentenced to three years in prison, and Arash to six.The Iranian authorities notified the physicians’ lawyer, Masoud Shafie, of the verdicts on 20 January. He has 20 days to appeal and intends to do so; the brothers say they are innocent.

The Alaeis were arrested last June, and their detention and trial were “unfair even by the draconian standards of Iran’s penal code”, says Jonathan Hutson, a spokesman for Physicians for Human Rights, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Declan Butler)


The Nature Editorial notes the double irony that Iran has had a model prison HIV program, among the half dozen best in the world. And that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a point of praising international cooperation in science as a mean to better understanding between countries and peoples during a controversial appearance at Columbia University in September 2007. Yet one of the suspicious activities alleged of the Alaei brothers was participation in a US-Iranian round table discussion at the Aspen Institute in 2006 and 2007. At the time it was hailed as one of the few direct discussions between the two countries in a quarter of a century, discussions discouraged by the very unenlightened Bush administration. Now that the Obama administration is signaling a more flexible approach, Ahmadinejad and the Iranian judiciary are showing they are Bush’s match in lack of smarts. As the Nature Editorial observed:

Such dialogue — ‘smart power’ — should be encouraged by all sides, because cooperation in the relatively apolitical areas of medicine and science keeps open rare avenues of back-channel diplomacy. Unfortunately, ‘dumb power’ is currently prevailing. The action of the Iranian judiciary in this case can have only a chilling effect on such activities, and there have been ill-considered moves elsewhere. Prime examples are the shortsighted visa policies being pursued by nations such as France, which unjustly discriminate against Iranian researchers (see Nature 456, 680-681; 2008), and the Bush administration’s declaration that the United States is seeking regime change in Iran by supporting ‘pro-democracy’ elements there. Academics in Iran who desire reform, but by self-determination, say that such covert US policies have left them vulnerable to the same charges faced by the Alaei brothers. More smart power is needed all round. (Editorial: An appeal to President Ahmadinejad, Nature)

These physicians are our scientific colleagues. We urge you to contact the government of Iran and register your dismay at this violation of human rights involving doctors whose work is saving lives. Go here for instructions for how to do this.

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