Retrial of Medical Workers Accused of Infecting Libyan Children With HIV Adjourned Until Sept. 12 After Defense Lawyer Fails To Appear in Court
The retrial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of infecting Libyan children with HIV was adjourned on Tuesday until Sept. 12 after the defense lawyer for the Palestinian doctor did not appear in court, Reuters South Africa reports (Sarrar, Reuters South Africa, 9/5). 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/30). Neither the absent defense lawyer, Touhami Toumi, nor court officials were available to explain his absence, according to Reuters South Africa. Under Libyan law, court hearings cannot proceed without a lawyer for the defendant, lawyer Abdallah al Maghribi said. Maghribi said the court would send Toumi a letter requesting that he attend the next hearing. Maghribi added that if Toumi "fails to answer positively," the trial will resume with a court-appointed defense lawyer (Reuters South Africa, 9/5). One of the Bulgarian nurses also was absent from the hearing on Tuesday, but the reason for her absence was unclear, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 9/5).
Related Opinion Piece
The "crisis" of the medical workers' case has "sparked a human rights tragedy that may at last -- after seven years of threats and recrimination -- be close to resolution," Judith Miller, a writer and former reporter for the New York Times, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. "No topic ... is as politically charged within Libya as this epidemic and its appalling consequences," Miller writes. The fate of the medical workers -- who now are experiencing "the terror of waiting to learn if they [will] live or die" -- rests with the Libyan court and on "continued implementation of the European deal to help the children," Miller says. "With some luck and belated good will, this tragedy may finally end," Miller writes (Miller, Wall Street Journal, 9/5).