Can Social Media Really Help Anybody?

There’s a lot of controversy nowadays about the usefulness of trying to use social media to raise awareness of all sorts of issues.  Some people feel it’s worth doing and others believe it’s a waste of time and just creates a feeling of ‘doing-good’ without any real commitment to action.

But what about the people involved at the ‘receiving end’ of all these campaigns?  For example, what’s it like to be a prisoner of conscience and to discover that strangers around the world are organising to demand your freedom?

Arash and Kamiar Alaei are Iranian brothers. Both of them are doctors, and in 2008 both were arrested and imprisoned in Iran for treating HIV/AIDS. They were freed by the Iranian government at least partly as a result of an international campaign called Free The Docs.

But the Free the Docs campaign didn’t only have diplomatic or political effect – it also had huge human significance to the Alaei brothers.

Here is an excerpt from a letter they wrote last November in which they describe the importance of the Free the Docs campaign not just to their eventual release but also to their morale while they were still in prison –

Dear Friends,

A great Persian Sufi poet wrote,

You are close to me when your heart is with me, even if you are far away from me.
You are far from me when your heart is not with me, even if you are beside me.

As a result of your support, we are now free and we are safe.

Four months after our arrest, we learned for the first time, via a discreet message from our family that so many of you were campaigning for our release.

Because we were under pressure during our two months of solitary confinement and several months of interrogation, we were led to believe that we were forgotten. When we got the message about your campaign through our family, it was like getting new blood that warmed our hearts and gave us energy to be strong, to tolerate the situation, and not to become broken…

Now that we are released, even though we have lost some of our friends in our country, we have learned that we have thousands of new friends, many of whom we have never met. We’ve had the chance to learn about the numerous letters, petitions, statements, presentations and conferences supporting our case from all over the world.

We appreciate so much your message that “treating AIDS is not a crime.” The campaign activity demonstrated to Iranian officials that thousands of individuals and organizations care about the situations of those people who work to improve the health status of their communities, especially when they face threats and persecution. In our case it was very important that the advocacy came not only from human rights organizations, but also from so many in the academic, medical, public health fields and individuals. We were so heartened to learn about the diversity of the engagement in our cause across geographic, religious, ethnic, cultural and political lines.

Thanks to your efforts, we are rejoicing at being reunited and we want to extend your advocacy by being the voice of the voiceless for others who may face a similar situation to ours. This is at least one way we can pass on the kindness you have shown to us.

We are both currently at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany where we hope to start an interdisciplinary center for health and human rights. We hope to receive your input and advice to make this a reality. We also with our friends plan to initiate a “Prison Alumni – Club Evin” to support one another and advocate for others who remain there.

We learned from our prison experience that if you believe in what you are doing, you must continue your work, whether or not the work is appreciated by your government….and you must do this until the last moment of your life.

We are unable to communicate our full appreciation to all of you since words cannot express our real feelings. But from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for campaigning for our freedom.

With much gratitude,

Arash Alaei
Alaeiarash [at]

Kamiar Alaei
Kamiar.alaei [at]


    1. It’s such a new phenomenon really. But it is interesting to me to see what it feels like for people on the receiving end. I always imagine if I was a prisoner of conscience (or in some awful circumstance) that I’d like to think people were trying to help me – even if they made mistakes in their efforts. Thanks.

Leave a Reply to creatingreciprocity Cancel reply