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Iranian authorities should immediately release or charge two physicians who are internationally recognized for their work on HIV/AIDS, Human Rights Watch said today. The men, Arash and Kamyar Alaei, who are brothers, were detained without charge by Iranian security forces in late June, and their whereabouts remain unknown.

On June 22, security forces detained Arash Alaei, holding him overnight at an unknown location. The following morning, they accompanied him to his home, where they arrested Kamyar Alaei and seized material and documents belonging to the brothers. The authorities have not yet announced why the brothers were detained or whether or not they intend to bring any charges against them. Moreover, they have refused to disclose information about where the Alaei brothers are being held and have not provided them access to counsel.

“Iran’s HIV/AIDS program has been acclaimed internationally for seriously addressing the AIDS epidemic,” said Joe Amon, HIV/AIDS program director at Human Rights Watch. “To fight AIDS effectively, the government has realized that it must engage in global efforts to combat the disease, work with civil society, and confront taboo issues, including sex and drugs. The detention without charges of the Alaei brothers has a chilling effect on all of those efforts.”

Arash and Kamyar are well known in Iran and internationally for their contributions to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs. For more than 20 years, the Alaei brothers have been active in addressing problems relating to drug use, with a focus on the spread of HIV/AIDS, and have played a key role in putting these issues on the national health care agenda. They have worked closely with government and religious leaders to ensure support for education campaigns on HIV transmission, including those targeting youth, and for HIV and harm reduction programs in prisons. They have also worked to share their expertise with neighboring countries by holding training workshops for Afghan and Tajik health care professionals.

Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as such has strict legal obligations not to carry out arbitrary arrests or detention and to afford due process rights – including the prompt provision of reasons for an arrest and any charges which will be brought, access to counsel, and the right to be brought before a judicial officer to determine the legality of the detention – to anyone detained.

“The Iranian authorities have been holding the Alaei brothers for over three weeks now,” said Amon. “Unless they produce some evidence or charges, and bring them before an independent tribunal so they an enjoy due process, they should release the men immediately.”

Arash and Kamyar Alaei have traveled to various countries, including the United States, to participate in professional events and to share their experiences regarding HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs in Iran. Kamyar Alaei is currently a doctoral candidate at the SUNY Albany School of Public Health. Neither of the men is known to have any involvement in political activities.

“In two weeks, more than 25,000 people from around the world will gather in Mexico for an international AIDS conference, and Arash is supposed to make a presentation on Iran’s innovative HIV program,” said Amon. “The focus of the meeting will be on where we are making progress in the fight against AIDS and where we are failing. Iran cannot be considered to be making progress if it is blatantly violating the human rights of two if its most valuable activists in this area.”

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