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Human Rights Groups Demand Iran Release AIDS Doctors


Human Rights groups at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City are calling on Iran to release two world-renowned physicians who have been detained in their homeland. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Mexico City.

Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights are calling for the immediate release of two Iranian doctors, Arash Alaei and his brother Kamyar Alaei, both of whom were arrested in Iran in late June. The Alaei brothers had been active in HIV/AIDS education as well as prevention and treatment programs.

Their prominence led them to participate in many international health forums and AIDS conferences. Dr. Arash Alaei was scheduled to participate at this conference here in Mexico City this week, but there has been no word from Iran about his or his brother's whereabouts. News reports from Teheran indicate the two brothers were arrested for participation in subversive activities.

Frank Donaghue, chief executive officer of Physicians for Human Rights tells VOA the arrest of the two physician brothers is especially strange since they once operated with the full approval of the Iranian government.

"They were often originally sponsored by the Iranian government with their work, but the Iranian government is now saying they used their presence at conferences like this global AIDS conference to undermine the Iranian government," Donaghue said. "In fact, Doctor Alaei was to have been here on Thursday as one of the panel speakers and there will be an empty chair in his honor on the dais on Thursday."

Donaghue says he has tried to communicate, both directly and indirectly, with authorities in Teheran to no avail.

"I have personally written to the president of Iran as well as other government officials demanding that these doctors be released or charged with credible charges, not those that may be made up for political reasons," Donaghue said.

Physicians for Human Rights has initiated an international campaign along with other human rights groups to put pressure on the Iranian government to release the two doctors. The organization has launched a web site, IranFreeTheDocs.org, to collect signatures from people around the world who want to support the cause.

Spokesmen for Human Rights Watch say the arrest of the Alaei brothers will have a chilling effect on programs to fight AIDS and HIV infection in Iran. According to the organization, the two physicians worked for more than 20 years in their native land to address problems related to drug abuse and HIV transmission.

The brothers Alaei helped create an HIV program that was considered innovative in international circles and Human Rights Watch says they have never been known to have any involvement in political activities.

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