While President Obama says he's reaching out to Iran and his Iranian counterpart is responding with bombast, the outlook for scientific diplomacy with Iran is growing chillier than ever. Two Iranian medical researchers, Arash and Kamiar Alaei, both highly respected for their work combating HIV/AIDS, have been sentenced by Iran's Revolutionary Court to 6 years and 3 years in prison, respectively. Their charge? International academic collaboration which, according to the Iranian government, is intended to foment a "velvet revolution." The lead editorial in today's issue of Nature calls on Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to make good on his promise, made last year at Columbia University, to support international academic collaboration. The sentence comes just a month after Glenn Schweitzer, director of Eurasian programs at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, was detained and interrogated while visiting Tehran to build collaborations in the medical sciences.
The Alaei brothers are only the latest Iranian academics targeted by their own government in a crackdown that began when Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. As in other cases, it is alleged that solitary confinement and torture are being used by the Iranian government to extract confessions. The Alaei brothers have 20 days to appeal the verdict. The organization Physicians for Human Rights is calling on the academic community to take action.
(Update, January 30, from Peter Witzler, Physicians for Human Rights: "We have shifted strategy to target Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. We launched a new action yesterday.")