Libyan court upholds death sentence for foreign medics in HIV case

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Association "Freedom for the Bulgarian Nurses" uses this symbol to represent the cause of the Bulgarian nurses. It represents a ribbon with the colours of the Bulgarian flag, with the words "You are not alone" in Bulgarian and English.
Image: Association "Freedom for the Bulgarian Nurses".

The Supreme Court in Libya has upheld the death sentence for five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian medical intern condemned for infecting 426 children with HIV. Just one day ago, a deal to free the foreign medics was announced.

The six defendants were not present at the court ruling, while family members of the children rejoiced when the judge confirmed the verdict. "This is a victory for the Libyan judiciary system. We are awaiting the execution of the death sentence," said Al-Monseif Khalifa, a lawyer for the plaintives.

E.U. Commission President José Manuel Barroso remains hopeful that the medics will receive clemency. "We regret that these decisions have been made, but I also want to express my confidence that a solution will be found," Barroso told the European Parliament.

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov called for a quick solution. He said the verdict came as no surprise, and expressed his hope for a swift final solution. The case will now move to the Supreme Judiciary Council which will hear the case on Monday, according to Libya's Foreign Minister, Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam. The Council is headed by the Justice Minister of Libya.

Late Tuesday, the Gaddafi Foundation, a non-profit run by the son of Libya's de facto leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, said a deal had been reached to free the health workers. The head of the Association for the Families of the HIV-Infected Children, Idriss Lagha, also said announced that a deal could be reached soon.

After the verdict today, Salah Abdessalem, a spokesman for the Gadhafi International Foundation for Charity Associations, reconfirmed to the Associated Press that a settlement to free the detainees still exists, which he said was acceptable to all parties and would end the crisis, without giving further details.

Unnamed officials who wished to remain anonymous disclosed the deal would involve financial compensation in exchange for the death sentences being commuted to a prison sentence, according to the Associated Press. E.U. officials say the European Union would agree to establish a fund of tens of millions of dollars to pay for the children's future medical care. Bulgaria and the European Union are calling it humanitarian aid instead of compensation, which would imply that their citizens would be guilty.

The convicted nurses and medical intern began working in the El-Fath Children's Hospital in Benghazi in 1998, and were arrested and jailed one year later when over 400 children were found to be infected with HIV -over 50 have died since. They were sentenced to death in 2004, and again after a retrial last December which came after an international outcry about the affair.

A scientific report by professors Luc Montagnier (one of the original discoverers of the virus causing AIDS) and Vittorio Colizzi used as evidence for the defence in the case said that the virus causing AIDS was widely spread in the hospital before the health workers even arrived, and that the infections were due to negligence and poor hygiene procedures in the Benghazi hospital. The prosecution introduced a report of Libyan scientists saying that this was not the case. The detainees have said that they have been tortured to make confessions.


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