Retrial of Medical Workers Accused of Infecting Libyan Children With HIV Adjourned Until Oct. 31 After Defense Lawyer is Hospitalized
The retrial of five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor accused of infecting Libyan children with HIV adjourned on Thursday until Oct. 31 after a defense lawyer for the Bulgarian nurses was hospitalized for high blood pressure and could not appear in court, the Sofia News Agency reports (Sofia News Agency, 9/22). 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, 9/5). Attorney Abdallah al Maghribi on Thursday confirmed that his colleague, leading defense attorney Othmane Bizanti, was ill and that he sent a certificate signed by his physician as proof of his hospitalization, Reuters AlertNet reports.
Families', Lawyers' Comments
Families of the HIV-positive children criticized the ongoing postponement of the trial. "We understand the court decision to adjourn, but that is painful for the families of the children and the repeated postponements could be used by the defendants as a legal pretext to demand their release," Heba Katkout, one of the families' lawyers, said. Trayan Markovski, a lawyer for the nurses, said speculation that delays in the trial have occurred so that an out-of-court settlement could be reached are inaccurate. "A trial that has been going for so long always raises such questions, but this is not the case now," he said, adding, "We will do our best on the next sitting not to have another delay." Defense lawyer Touhami Toumi said he expected a verdict to be issued soon. "The court will announce a verdict in November," Toumi said. However, other lawyers have said a ruling would take more time (Sarrar, Reuters AlertNet, 9/21).