Freed Iranian doctor thanks Hub allies for pushing for release
WASHINGTON — For years, Dr. Kamiar Alaei and his brother, Dr. Arash Alaei, fought the spread of AIDS in their native Iran. The clinics and anonymous needle exchanges they set up became a model for prevention around the world.
But in 2008, the Iranian government arrested the Alaei brothers and subjected them to months of solitary confinement. In a one-day trial, they were convicted of “communicating with an enemy government’’ — an apparent reference to their participation in international public health conferences supported by the United States.
Kamiar Alaei was released from prison in October after a relentless campaign for the brothers’ freedom spearheaded by the Cambridge-based Physicians for Human Rights. Arash Alaei remains imprisoned.
“No prison walls can break the spirit of a human being with a cause,’’ Kamiar Alaei said in Washington last night, making his first public remarks since his release as he collected a prestigious Global Health Council Prize at a ceremony. He earned a master’s degree in 2006 from Harvard’s School of Public Health and has returned to a PhD program at the State University of New York at Albany.
Alaei thanked all the people in Boston who worked for his freedom, including Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, and David Bloom, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
In remarks before the speech, he said he had no idea that a campaign had been launched to set him free until he was allowed to visit his family after more than a year of imprisonment.
“We thought we were forgotten,’’ Alaei said.
The brothers’ arrest had stifled US efforts to engage with Iran by fostering nonpolitical exchanges for Iranian doctors, athletes, and musicians. The Alaeis participated in one of the first-ever such US-government-funded exchanges, which brought Iranian doctors to tour medical facilities in Boston.
Kamiar, who served 2 1/2 years of a 3-year prison sentence, nonetheless urged young people in Iran and elsewhere to continue doing what they believe is right.
“Keep doing what you are passionate about,’’ he said. “Don’t get upset if it is not being appreciated by the government.’’
Farah stockman can be reached at email@example.com.