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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Libya court sentences foreign medics to death in second HIV infection trial
Jeannie Shawl at 8:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor were convicted and sentenced to death Tuesday for knowingly infecting over 400 Libyan patients, primarily children, with the HIV virus. This is the second time a Libyan court has convicted the medics; the initial guilty verdict was overturned by the Libyan Supreme Court in 2005 and a retrial ordered [JURIST reports]. Defense lawyers said they would appeal Tuesday's ruling in what could be the last appeal permitted under Libyan law.

The medics have argued that the patients were infected with the HIV virus before treatment and a new study was published earlier this month supporting the medics' claims [JURIST report]. The analysis, which showed that the strain of HIV with which the children had been infected was already present and spreading locally in the mid-1990s, long before the medics arrived in Libya in 1998, was not released until after the second trial concluded on November 4.

Bulgaria and its allies, including the US [JURIST report] and the European Union, contend that the nurses are innocent and have said they have been tortured into admitting guilt in the case [BBC trial timeline; BBC Q&A]. Nine Libyan police officers and one doctor were acquitted [JURIST report] of torturing the health workers [HRW report] last year. Bulgaria quickly condemned the verdict [MFA statement] Tuesday, saying:

To our deep regret the court in Tripoli didn't take into consideration the numerous evidences proving the innocence of the Bulgarian nurses. We cannot accept a decision ignoring the very clear facts, confirmed, among others, in the most recent research of worldÂ?s leading experts, rejecting any connection between the work of the Bulgarian medical staff and the HIV infection in the Benghazi hospital. This verdict is clearly setting back the efforts to solve this painful case....

But at the same time we firmly believe that any linkage of this tragedy to the work of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor is absolutely unfounded and misleads the Libyan people and the concerned families.

The protraction of this judicial case for eight years now is a strong argument to require a clear commitment of the Libyan institutions and the leadership of the country. We strongly urge the Libyan authorities, including the judicial system not to delay any further the final conclusion of the trial and to allow for the return of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor to their home countries. After eight years of detention in the Libyan prisons they deserve justice and a fair and speedy trial.
BBC News has more.

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