Libyan Court Acquits Police Officers, Physician of Torturing Bulgarian Nurses To Confess to Infecting Children With HIV
A Libyan court on Tuesday acquitted nine police officers and a physician who had been charged with torturing five Bulgarian nurses to force them to confess to infecting about 400 Libyan children with HIV, Reuters AlertNet reports (Sarrar, Reuters AlertNet, 6/7). The nurses and a Palestinian doctor have been detained in Libya since 1999 and have been sentenced to death for allegedly infecting the children. However, the health care workers say they are innocent of the charges, claiming they were forced to confess while being tortured. The Libyan Supreme Court in March opened a hearing on the case of the health care workers, who in May 2004 were sentenced by a lower court to death by firing squad, but the case has been postponed until Nov. 15. The workers also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. Many HIV/AIDS experts say that the infections likely are the result of the Libyan Health Ministry's failure to screen blood products adequately and poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya, where the children were infected. The Libyan government previously has said it would free the nurses if the Bulgarian government paid compensation equal to the amount Libya paid to relatives of the victims of the 1988 plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which reportedly was carried out by Libyan secret service agents. Bulgaria so far has declined to pay compensation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/1). Abdullah al-Maghrabi, an attorney for the police officers and physician, said his clients were acquitted because the judge in the case found no evidence against them, adding, "This acquittal and our judicial system are fair and [are] not subject to political consequences."
The police officers and physician acquitted of torture said they "felt vindicated" by the verdict, according to the AP/Long Island Newsday. "Now the last leaf behind which the Bulgarian nurses were hiding from justice has fallen," police officer Maj. Jomoa al-Mishri said (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/7). An attorney for the police officers and physician said they now plan to sue the nurses and the state for accusing them of torture, according to Reuters AlertNet (Reuters AlertNet, 6/7). The European Union said it is "seriously concerned" by the verdict, according to AFP/Aljazeera.net. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, an E.U. external relations commissioner, continued to advocate for the release of the nurses and doctor. "We have been extremely disappointed by the procedures in this trial," Ferrero-Waldner said, adding that human rights lawyers were denied visas to represent the nurses and the doctor (AFP/Aljazeera.net, 6/8).