Judge Denies Bail, Adjourns Trial of Medical Workers Accused of Infecting Libyan Children With HIV After Defense Witnesses Fail To Appear
Judge Mahmoud Haouissa, the presiding judge on the three-member tribunal of the Tripoli Criminal Court, on Tuesday adjourned until Aug. 8 the retrial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian physician accused of intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV after subpoenaed defense witnesses did not appear before the court, Reuters South Africa reports (Sarrar, Reuters South Africa, 7/25). The six medical workers were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for allegedly infecting 426 children through contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. 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. According to Bulgarian foreign ministry spokesperson Dimitar Tsanchev, the defense has provided the court with a list of 211 instances of psychological torture measures taken against the health workers based on the U.N.'s Istanbul Protocol, which declares psychological torture a crime (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/10). Haouissa earlier this month read out the charges that the health workers knowingly infected 393 children at the Benghazi hospital with HIV, and the defendants all pleaded not guilty to the charges (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/6).
Haouissa on Tuesday said the postponement was to give court officials time to contact the absent witnesses, who are mostly health workers in Benghazi (Reuters South Africa, 7/25). The judge refused a request by defense attorneys to release the health workers on bail to the Bulgarian embassy, saying the "offered guarantees were not sufficient," AFP/Khaleej Times reports. He did say he would re-examine a report prepared by Libyan experts on the case. Luc Montagnier, the co-discoverer of HIV, in a 2003 report conducted at the request of Libyan officials, said poor hygiene at Al Fateh led to the childrens' HIV infections (AFP/Khaleej Times, 7/25). Montagnier last year testified that HIV was present in the hospital where the children allegedly contracted the virus prior to the arrival of the foreign medical workers (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/6). Haouissa on Tuesday also restated a denial of a request to allow international HIV/AIDS experts to testify in the case (Reuters South Africa, 7/25).
HIV-Positive Children Headed to France, Italy for Treatment
Some of the HIV-positive children infected at Al Fateh are expected to travel in the next month to France or Italy for treatment, Ramadan Futuri, spokesperson for a group of families of the children, said Tuesday, the Bulgarian News Agency reports (Bulgarian News Agency, 7/25). Bulgaria, the European Union, Libya and the U.S. in December 2005 agreed to establish a fund to support the HIV-positive Libyan children (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/3). Funds for transportation, lodging and treatment have already been provided, and visas are expected to be provided, according to Futuri. He added that representatives of the group this week will go to Rome and Paris to organize the trip (Bulgarian News Agency, 7/25).