Medical Workers Charged With Infecting Libyan Children With HIV Were Tortured, Attorneys Say at Retrial Hearing
Attorneys for five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor accused of intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV on Tuesday during a hearing in their retrial said that the health workers were tortured while in custody, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (Geblawi, AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/31). 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, 10/26). The retrial has been adjourned until Nov. 4, and court President Mahmoud Haouissa is expected to hear the prosecution's closing statements and set a date for ruling, attorneys said (Sarrar, Reuters UK, 10/31). If the court decides to sentence the Bulgarian nurses instead of acquitting them, lawyers of the nurses will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, lawyer Georgi Gatev told Darik News, the Sofia News Agency reports (Sofia News Agency, 11/1).
"Methods of torture were practiced on the accused to force them to make confessions," Othman Bizanti, an attorney for the Bulgarian nurses, said. Bizanti also noted that in 1997, before the health workers' arrival in Libya, authorities had discovered about 207 cases of HIV in Benghazi but did not follow up on the investigation (Reuters UK, 10/31). According to AFP/Yahoo! News, two nurses had testified that they confessed under torture to infecting the children and all six of the health workers now assert their innocence. Tuhami al-Tumi, attorney for the Palestinian doctor, attributed the infection of the children to unsanitary conditions in the Benghazi hospital and asked the judge to acquit his client. He added that the health workers had been "subjected to physical and psychological torture" while in custody (AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/31). Defense lawyer Plamen Yalnuzov also said the prosecution's charges were unfounded, noting that it has ignored the assessments of European scientists that poor conditions at the hospital were the cause of the infections (Bulgarian News Agency, 10/31).