AP: Iran has sentenced two internationally renowned Iranian AIDS physicians to six and three years in prison for their alleged participation in a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow Iran's Islamic regime, their lawyer said Thursday.
The Associated Press
By NASSER KARIMI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has sentenced two internationally renowned Iranian AIDS physicians to six and three years in prison for their alleged participation in a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow Iran's Islamic regime, their lawyer said Thursday.
The attorney, Masoud Shafii, said authorities notified him this week of the sentences handed to the two physicians, Arash and Kamyar Alaei, who are brothers and were convicted over the weekend. Shafii said he would appeal the verdicts.
The prosecution of the doctors raised an outcry among international human rights groups and critics who said the case was the latest instance of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hard-line government targeting Iranians with Western connections and depicting them as tools for an American campaign to overthrow the regime.
The brothers ran a clinic in Tehran and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs throughout the country, focusing particularly on at-risk sectors like prostitutes and drug users. They also traveled extensively to international AIDS conferences, and Kamyar Alaei was pursuing a doctorate at the SUNY Albany School of Public Health in Albany, New York.
The charges against the Alaeis are similar to those Iran made against four Iranian-Americans in 2007, including academic Haleh Esfandiari. Those four were imprisoned or had their passports confiscated for several months until they were released and allowed to return to the U.S. They all denied the allegations.
The brothers' trial on Dec. 31 was shrouded in secrecy, and Shafii said the judge only notified him of the verdict on Tuesday. Two other people were sentenced with the doctors, but neither their identities nor the lengths of their prison terms are known.
The Alaeis were convicted under an Iranian law that stipulates that anyone cooperating with a foreign "hostile" government against Iran can be sentenced to between one and 10 years in prison.
However, the lawyer said only the Supreme National Security Council can define whether the U.S. is hostile. Since it has not done so, the brothers' activities "were not against Iran," said Shafii.
But the lawyer refused to elaborate since legally he was not allowed to reveal the content of a verdict.
On Monday, the official IRNA news agency quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying the brothers were convicted of taking part in a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow Iran's ruling establishment. The official said the Alaeis tried to create a social crisis and stir up street demonstrations and ethnic disputes in Iran.
The prosecution appears to have more to do with the brothers' contacts with the U.S. than their AIDS work.
Numerous medical and scientific organizations have publicly called for the release of the brothers, who have been held in Evin prison just north of Tehran since late June 2008.
The Massachusetts-based Physicians for Human Rights expressed deep concern Wednesday over purported confessions by the Alaeis that the group said were used by Iranian authorities to convict them. The confessions may have been forcibly extracted, the group warned in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press.
According to a press release Wednesday from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the mother of Alaei brothers told a local news Web site, Rooz Online, that her sons were held for 63 days in solitary confinement and that she feared that they might be tortured to coerce false confessions on camera.
Tension between the Washington and Tehran has been high in recent years over Iran's nuclear program and the country's alleged support of Shiite militias in Iraq — a charge Tehran denies.