Libyan Trial of Bulgarian Health Workers Accused of Spreading HIV to Begin Saturday
The Libyan trial of seven international health care workers accused of intentionally infecting 393 children with HIV is set to begin Saturday in that country's People's Court, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Six Bulgarians -- five nurses and one doctor -- and one Palestinian doctor are accused of infecting the children at a hospital in Benghazi and have been detained since February 1999, as the trial has been delayed 12 times. Nine Libyans face lesser charges, including negligence, but all have been released on bail. The charges sound "farfetched," according to the Monitor, and have raised questions about the political motivations of the trial. Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi "heightened" public concern over the trial when he suggested on April 27 at an AIDS conference in Abuja, Nigeria, that the infections were "part of a Western plot." The Bulgarians "carried out an experiment" on the children at the behest of some outside organization such as the CIA or the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency, he said. He also said the health care workers would face an "international trial, like the Lockerbie trial," in which a Libyan intelligence officer was convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. That trial was conducted under Scottish law at a special court on a former U.S. military base in the Netherlands. However, Libya has made no moves to open the trial to international observers and declined WHO's offer to investigate the Benghazi hospital where the infections allegedly occurred. Vladimir Cheytanov, a lawyer hired by the families of the detained Bulgarians, has met only four times with his clients over the last year and said the court "had allowed him no legal means -- no witnesses, no experts, no questioning of defendants" -- prior to May 13, the last date the trial was scheduled to begin. Mohamed Kasim, secretary general of the Union of Libyan Human Rights Defenders, a Netherlands-based group, said Kadafi and his group "contro[l] everything" in Libya, making it difficult for a "fair trial or freedom of speech or international judicial standards" to apply. Human rights observers have also expressed concern over the case. "When I read the indictment, it didn't seem rational," Krassimir Kanev, chair of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, said. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said the trial "appear[s] to reflect unchecked and irrational anxieties about the violability of national boundaries and the foreign origins of HIV." Cheytanov said "international pressure" may be the "best hope" for the Bulgarians. Increased awareness of the trial has led the court to allow Cheytanov to question his clients on the stand, but the court has not yet ruled on whether to allow expert testimony (Brunwasser, Christian Science Monitor, 5/29).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.