Why Iran imprisoned its leading HIV specialistsby Tina Rosenberg / September 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Police burn drugs, confiscated in Tehran: AIDS prevalence among drug
injectors shocked Iran, which now offers addicts clean needles
Of Kamiar Alaei’s 63 days in solitary detention in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, one of the worst was the day his cell was painted. Cell 74 of Unit 209 was tiny, six feet by four, and Kamiar, who is not tall, could flatten his palms on each wall when standing. But the ugly green walls provided companionship. They were covered with words, short poems, brief prayers—written with pens, scratched with broken plastic spoons, even written in blood.
“When you are in solitary you don’t know when it will be finished, so you have to keep your motivation to survive,” Kamiar said. The words on the walls provided his—he permitted himself to read one word a day. “I started from one side of the wall and read one word, and then I’d be done till the next day. It was like seeing an ad for a beautiful movie that you’ll watch tomorrow. I spent two or three weeks on one wall and then moved to another wall.”
Kamiar was new to prison. The interrogators were playing good cop/bad cop and he didn’t know if he could trust them. “People wrote ‘be strong’ and ‘don’t trust anybody,’” he said. “That helped me the most.”
Then one morning he woke up to the smell of paint. To his horror, the cells in his block were being repainted—a cheery yellow, but it was no consolation. The words of his predecessors were lost; now no one would understand what they had been through.
Kamiar was 34 when he was arrested, in his family’s apartment on 27th June, 2008. His brother Arash, five years older, had been arrested the day before. They were accused of conspiring with an enemy government to overthrow Iran’s regime. The evidence the eventually presented against them was laughable—one of Kamiar’s “secret meetings” cited by the authorities was actually a blind date.