Kerry Sheridan, AFP
Last updated: 29 August, 2011

Iran releases jailed HIV doctor

Iranian HIV doctor Arash Alaei has been released from jail in Tehran after spending more than three years behind bars for allegedly conspiring against the regime, his US-based brother said Monday.

“He got released today,” Kamiar Alaei told AFP in an email. “He was among 100 Iranian political prisoners who got a pardon today due to the coming end of the Ramadan religious holiday, Eid al-Fitr.”

Alaei also posted on a statement on his Facebook page, thanking his friends, colleagues and family for their “tireless help and support.”

The two brothers were arrested in June 2008 and accused of communicating with the United States in a bid to unseat the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Kamiar, 37, was released from Tehran’s Evin prison earlier this year and returned to Albany, New York where he is completing a doctoral degree in public health.

He and Arash, 42, who was initially sentenced to six years in jail, were in June awarded the Global Health Council’s Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.

Kamiar said he was detained when he took a summer break from his US studies and went to work in Iran for a few months.

He served two and a half years — a term he told AFP he remembered as “870 days, 20,800 hours” — and said upon receiving his award that he hoped Arash would be released soon because his elder brother had served half his sentence.

The pair are known for their efforts to help drug addicts infected with HIV and improve conditions for sick prisoners, and are regarded as pioneers of AIDS treatment in Iran, where discussions about sex and drugs are often taboo.

Data is scarce about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Islamic republic, but according to UNAIDS there were 5,000-10,000 infections in 2009 and about nine percent of people with advanced HIV infection were being treated with antiretroviral drugs.

The brothers began treating HIV-positive patients in the late 1990s, and they developed a three-pronged program that integrated prevention, care and social support.

This “triangular” approach to AIDS care was first tried in a prison in their hometown of Kermanshah and later became recognized as a best practice model in the Middle East.

The duo were also featured several years ago in a BBC documentary, “Mohammad and the Matchmaker,” which showed how the doctors became closely involved in their patients’ lives and even helped introduce HIV-positive singles seeking marriage.

Physicians for Human Rights helped organize a letter-writing campaign across 80 countries urging the brothers’ release.

Kamiar said his brother ended up serving three years and two months in jail, and was now with their mother at the family’s home in Tehran.

“He is happy since his other political cellmates got released, too,” Alaei told AFP.