Retrial of Medical Workers Accused of Infecting Libyan Children With HIV Adjourned Until June 20
The retrial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been imprisoned since 1999 in Libya for allegedly infecting 426 children with HIV has been adjourned until June 20, Reuters reports. Judge Mahmoud Haouissa, the presiding judge on the three-member tribunal, on Tuesday in Tripoli, Libya, postponed the trial for a second time, saying that defense and prosecution lawyers needed more time to provide documentary evidence to the court and prepare witness lists (Reuters, 6/13). Haouissa on Tuesday also ruled that the court will convene weekly on Tuesdays until a verdict is reached, the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports (El-Deeb, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6/13). The six medical workers were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for allegedly infecting the children through contaminated blood products. The Libyan Supreme Court in December 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered a retrial in a lower court. The health workers say they are innocent of the charges, claiming that they were forced to confess and that they were tortured by Libyan officials during interrogations. The retrial had begun in May, and Haouissa said Bulgarian and French defense lawyers had not completed the defense procedure (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/12). Defense lawyers criticized the court for the postponement. "This trial has taken another direction and more than seven-and-a half years in detention is enough," Othmane Bizanti, lead defense lawyer for the health workers, said (Reuters, 6/13). Haouissa in May denied the defense's request to release the medical workers on bail after a prosecutor said the defendants might try to leave the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/12).
"[M]uch more should have been done" to challenge Libya's accusations against the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor and to "[p]ressure" the Libyan government into releasing them, Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in an International Herald Tribune opinion piece. According to Garrett, U.S. officials should have "insisted that the case be adjudicated" through the Biological Weapons Convention and that "molecular epidemiology techniques" be used to identify the origins of the HIV strains found in the blood of the affected children. If these methods had been applied, they would have "prove[n] what Libyan physicians, in numerous anonymous postings on the Internet, have insisted for some time": that the HIV strain found in the infected children was in the Libyan blood supply prior to the arrival of the medical workers, Garrett writes, adding that "severe shortages of sterile needles and medical equipment in the Fateh [Children's] Hospital ensured [the virus'] spread throughout the pediatric wards" (Garrett, International Herald Tribune, 6/11).