Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Demand Justice for Prominent HIV/AIDS Researchers Sentenced to PrisonBrothers Arash Alaei and Kamiar Alaei, doctors specializing in the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS, were tried on 31 December 2008 for plotting to overthrow the Iranian government and other charges in proceedings that did not meet international standards for fair trial. The Iranian government announced on 19 January 2009 that they have been sentenced to an unspecified prison sentence.
Arash and Kamiar Alaei had been arrested in June 2008 and held without charge for six months. The brothers were given a one-day trial before Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, along with two other individuals. They were accused of involvement in an attempt to overthrow the government. The prosecutor withheld some of the charges they faced, giving the brothers no opportunity to refute the charges. The prosecutor also submitted secret evidence the brothers’ lawyer did not have the opportunity to examine or refute. The two doctors are known to have been charged under article 508 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code with “cooperating” with an “enemy government,” which carries a penalty of between one and ten years’ imprisonment.
Amnesty International is concerned the charges against Arash and Kamiar Alaei, and the allegations of their involvement in a plot to overthrow the government, are based solely on vaguely-worded national security laws. Amnesty International is concerned that the brothers are prisoners of conscience, targeted solely for their internationally recognized medical research and advocacy efforts and for their peaceful collaboration with non-governmental organizations in other countries.
Please write to the following officials:
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection
Tehran, ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
Minister of Intelligence
His Excellency Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie
Ministry of Information
Second Negarestan Street
Tehran, ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
Head of the Judiciary
His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh /
Office of the Head of the Judiciary
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
Email: email@example.com (In subject line write: FAO Ayatollah Shahroudi)
Dear Your Excellency:
I am writing to you to express my deep concern about the conviction of the brothers Arash and Kamiar Alaei, on vague charges of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. The brothers were given a one-day trial on 31 December 2008 that failed to adhere to internationally accepted standards for fair trial; the brothers and their lawyers were not informed of all the charges against them and were not therefore given the opportunity to refute the charges. The Iranian government announced on 19 January 2009 that they were sentenced to an unspecified period of time in prison.
The Alaei brothers are physicians, widely recognized for their work in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. They traveled outside Iran and took part in international conferences as part of their research and advocacy activities. They were arrested in June 2008 and had been held in Evin Prison in Tehran for six months without charge with limited access to their families and attorneys.
I urge you to fully disclose all the charges brought against Kamiar and Arash Alaei. I also urge that while they are in detention that they be treated humanely and given access to their families and attorneys. Kamiar and Arash Alaei appear to be prisoners of conscience, targeted for their medical research and advocacy efforts and their collaboration with non-governmental organizations outside Iran. I therefore urge that unless they are tried for internationally recognizable criminal offenses in proceedings that meet internationally recognized fair trial standards, that they be immediately released. Thank you very much for your attention.
Arash and Kamiar Alaei are known for their work on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, especially for their work to prevent the spread of HIV among drug users. Both doctors have traveled abroad because of their work. Kamiar Alaei is a doctoral candidate at the State University of New York’s Albany School of Public Health and holds a Masters degree in International Health from the Harvard University School of Public Health. Earlier this year, the Asia Society, a US-based non-governmental organization, named him as a Fellow, “one of 23 new Fellows identified as being among the most promising trendsetters and emerging leaders in the Asia-Pacific region.” Arash Alaei is the former Director of the International Education and Research Cooperation of the Iranian National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. They have run HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs in Iran, focusing particularly on at risk sectors like prostitutes and drug users. They have also held training courses for Afghan and Tajik medical workers. Neither is known to have been involved in political activities.
The brothers’ work with drug addicts and prostitutes in Tehran was featured in a 2004 BBC television documentary, Mohammed and the Matchmaker, in which Kamiar Alaei 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 […] Many people are still afraid to talk about it. Some people with HIV are ostracized and stigmatized, and they are often very isolated."
The Alaeis’ efforts expanded the expertise of doctors in the region, advanced the progress of medical science, and earned Iran recognition as a model of best practice by the World Health Organization. Iran’s response to HIV/AIDS has been accorded international respect, particularly the preventative measures promoted by Arash and Kamiar Alaei. According to the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic published by UNAIDS on 29 July 2008 “the… support for needle exchange projects in countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran… serve as clear examples of courageous, visionary leadership in the response to HIV.” However, the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which took office in August 2005, has started to remove its support for such centers.
Dr Arash Alaei was arrested by Iranian security forces on 22 June 2008.The following morning, they escorted him to his mother’s house in Tehran, where they arrested his brother, Dr Kamiar Alaei They also seized documents belonging to the brothers. They were held at Evin Prison in Tehran. There were reports that they were held in solitary confinement for periods of time. On 3 August, Tehran's deputy prosecutor Hassan Haddad was quoted as saying, "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," and that "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." At the time of their trial on 31 December 2008, the brothers had been held five months longer than Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedures allows. Article 33 of the Code calls for cases to be settled within one month of arrest, and although temporary extensions to the detention order are allowed; it is not clear in the brothers’ case that the detention orders were, as required, documented, nor whether they had the opportunity to challenge the order.
Iranian Judiciary spokesperson Alireza Jamshidi told a news conference on 13 January 2009 that four Iranian citizens had been arrested and brought to the court on charges of “communications with an enemy government” and seeking to overthrow the Iranian government under article 508 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code. Jamshidi claimed: "They were linked to the CIA, backed by the US government and State Department... They recruited and trained people to work with different espionage networks to launch a velvet overthrow of the Iranian government". Jamshidi added that further details of the case would be forthcoming in the next two days. He had previously stated at a press conference on 30 December 2008 that Kamiar and Arash Alaei faced charges of “acting against national security through cooperating with America,” “propaganda against the system” and “membership in groups hostile to the system.” The prosecution is said to have cited the brothers' participation at international AIDS conferences as part of their scheme to foment a so-called "velvet revolution" against Tehran.One of the charges appears to be Article 508 of Iran’s Penal Code. It allows up to ten years’ imprisonment for “cooperation” with an “enemy government,” though the Penal Code is silent as to what constitutes “cooperation” or what is meant by an “enemy government.” Amnesty International has repeatedly drawn attention to the catalogue of vaguely worded articles relating to association and ''national security'' in Iran’s Penal Code. These prohibit a range of activities, such as those connected with public discourse, and, as in this case, contact with international bodies.
The conduct of their one-day trial did not meet the most basic fair trial standards. The prosecutor was said to have refused to disclose in court some of the charges faced by the brothers, so that their lawyer, Masoud Shafie, did not know all the charges they faced in order to prepare an effective defense; he was not allowed to review all the evidence nor reportedly given adequate opportunities to refute the prosecution's case.On 19 January 2009 The Iranian State News Agency (IRNA) reported that the two brothers were among four men sentenced to prison for allegedly participating in a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow Iran's Islamic regime. IRNA said that the Alaei brothers and the two other defendants were convicted of recruiting dozens of others and planned to recruit more Iranian doctors, university professors and scientists to provide information to the United States on Iran's infrastructure and civil defense. "They aimed at creating social crisis, street demonstrations and ethnic disputes," the report quoted the general director of the counterespionage section of Iran's Intelligence Ministry as saying, without providing his name. He said the CIA spent some $32 million on the plot and accused the United States of stationing intelligence agents in neighboring countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Kuwait and Azerbaijan. IRNA did not report the length of the prison sentences that were imposed.
The prosecution of Arash and Kamyar Alaei has raised an outcry among international human rights groups, including Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. In January 2009 more than 2,000 people from around the globe contacted the Iranian Mission to the UN in New York City, demanding the Alaeis’ release. In addition 3,100 doctors, nurses and public health workers from 85 countries have signed an online petition demanding their release, which can be viewed at IranFreeTheDocs.org. Leading physicians and public health specialists and numerous medical and scientific organizations have publicly called for the brothers’ release, including HIV/AIDS and health experts luminaries: Global Fund Executive Director Professor Michel Kazatchkine; Partners in Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer; 2008 MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant recipient Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH; Hossam E. Fadel, MD, of the Islamic Medical Association of North America; 1993 Nobel Laureate in Medicine Sir Richard Roberts PhD, FRS; and Ugandan AIDS pioneer Dr. Peter Mugyenyi. Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is obligated to pertain to the obligations of this Covenant. These include: refraining from arbitrary arrests and detention, announcing reasons of arrest with no delay, announcing charges under which the victims are detained, allowing the right to defense and to have a legal defense, and also allowing the victim to be present when charges are ruled.