Six Convicted for Infecting 426 Children With HIV
By Lamine GhanmiReuters
TRIPOLI (Dec. 19) - A Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a
Palestinian doctor to death on Tuesday for deliberately infecting hundreds
of children with the virus that causes AIDS, provoking a chorus of Western
The ruling, the latest episode in what experts say has been a deeply
politicized case, could be a setback for Libya's efforts to improve ties
with the West.
The children's families at the trial hailed the ruling as a welcome act of
defiance of the West.
"Justice has been done. We are happy," said Subhy Abdullah, whose daughter
Mona, 7, died from AIDS contracted at the hospital in the town of Benghazi
where the medics worked.
"They should be executed quickly," Abdullah told Reuters after the guilty
verdicts were announced by Judge Mahmoud Haouissa at the end of a
seven-month retrial of the case.
In Bulgaria, Polina Dimitrova, a daughter of one of the nurses, Snezhana
Dimitrova, told Reuters: "This is such a disgrace. I simply cannot believe
such injustice can be done."
The six were accused of infecting 426 Libyan children, more than 50 of
whom have since died, with HIV at a hospital in Benghazi in the late
The medics had denied the charge and their defense lawyer said they
planned to appeal against their latest conviction.
They were first found guilty in a 2004 trial and sentenced to death by
firing squad. But the supreme court quashed the ruling last year, citing
unspecified failings in the case, and ordered a retrial.
European Union Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said he
was shocked and disappointed by the ruling. Amnesty International
condemned the decision.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin said: "The decision is deeply
disappointing. The Libyan court did not take into consideration all the
proof of the nurses' innocence."
Western analysts have said the case is embroiled in power politics and
forecast a solution could take many more months.
Some analysts suspect Libya is likely to keep the six as bargaining chips
until talks yield a financial payout from the international community to
appease the children's families.
Haouissa did not say how the six should be executed but Libya's preferred
method is a firing squad.
DEFIANCE OF THE WEST
Relatives of the children attending the hearing broke down in tears at the
verdicts, shouting: "God is greatest."
Referring to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, relatives shouted: "Go ahead,
our falcon, in defiance of the West."
The six sat calmly as the verdicts were announced.
"The verdicts will change nothing. we are innocent," the Palestinian
doctor, Ashraf Alhajouj, told Reuters from behind the bars of the dock.
Luc Montagnier, a French doctor who first detected the HIV virus, has said
the infections were first present in the Benghazi hospital in 1997, a year
before the medics arrived.
The case has hampered oil producer Libya's rapprochement with the West,
which moved up a gear when it abandoned its pursuit of nuclear, chemical
and biological weapons in 2003.
Washington backs Bulgaria and the European Union in saying the medics are
Tripoli has demanded 10 million euros ($13.11 million) in compensation for
each infected child's family. Bulgaria and its allies have rejected this,
saying a payout would admit guilt. But they are trying to arrange a fund
for treatment at European hospitals for the children.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has reason to free the six, analysts say,
because it slows Tripoli's normalization of ties with the West after
decades of being an outcast.
But freeing the defendants would put the focus on alleged negligence and
poor hygiene in Libyan hospitals, which Western scientists say are the
real culprits in the case.
The EU's Frattini, who has sought greater cooperation with Libya on
migration control, said: "My first reaction is great disappointment. I am
shocked...I strongly hope that somehow the Libyan authorities will rethink
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