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Commentary & Opinion
Editorial Calls for Release of Iranian Physicians, Urges President to Allow Dialogue to Further HIV Prevention Efforts

February 2, 2009

It is "unbelievable" that "two of the physicians who helped pioneer Iran's progressive AIDS-prevention program are now behind bars," the journal Nature says in an editorial, adding that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should "request the appropriate authorities to review the cases of Arash and Kamiar Alaei so that the truth may prevail." The Alaei brothers recently were sentenced to jail terms of three and six years by Tehran's Revolutionary Court on charges of "being U.S. stooges bent on fomenting a velvet revolution to overthrow the state," the editorial says, adding that the brothers' participation with U.S. government officials in two health diplomacy roundtables "apparently attracted suspicion."

An "especially puzzling aspect of the case" is Ahmadinejad's previous public support for international collaboration in science, the editorial says. "Such dialogue ... 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," the editorial writes. It adds that the brothers' sentences "can have only a chilling effect on such activities, and there have been ill-considered moves elsewhere." The editorial concludes that Iran's HIV-prevention program "has won respect in the Muslim world and beyond," and, as Ahmadinejad previously said, the "open scientific and medical dialogue needed to progress in issues such as the fight against AIDS must be above the contemporary realpolitik of broader political issues" (Nature, 1/29).

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