Sentencing of Medical Workers Charged With Infecting Libyan Children With HIV Scheduled for Dec. 19
A Libyan court on Dec. 19 is scheduled to deliver a verdict in the case of five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor accused of intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, court President Mahmoud Haouissa said on Saturday, BBC News reports (BBC News, 11/4). 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, 11/1). At the retrial on Saturday, the prosecution reiterated its call for the health workers to be executed. The defendants made personal statements maintaining their innocence and repeating their claim that they were forced to confess under torture. Nobel laureate Richard Roberts, who serves as the chief scientific officer at New England BioLabs, and more than 100 additional laureates in an open letter to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi published last week in Nature expressed concern about the fairness of the trial (Sarrar, Reuters South Africa, 11/4). "We, Nobel laureates in the sciences, are gravely concerned about the ongoing trial ... Strong evidence is needed to establish the cause of this infection. However, independent science-based evidence from international experts has, so far, not been permitted in court," the scientists wrote, adding, "[W]e feel that if justice is to be served it is essential that the defense should be permitted to present its case" (Roberts et al., Nature, 11/2). The defense at the retrial said the health workers have been incarcerated for seven years and should be freed pending the ruling. The prosecution argued that the relatives of the children infected with HIV might harm the defendants, and the judge on Saturday ruled against their release (El-Deeb, AP/Yahoo! News, 11/4). If the court decides to sentence the medical workers instead of acquitting them, lawyers of the nurses will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/1).
Several NPR programs reported recently on the case. Summaries appear below.
- NPR's "Day to Day": The segment includes comments from Rana Jawad, correspondent for the BBC in Libya covering the trial (Brand, "Day to Day," NPR, 11/1). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday": The segment includes comments from Robert Gallo, who co-discovered HIV, developed the first test for the virus and currently serves as director of the Maryland-based Institute of Human Virology (Palca, "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday," NPR, 11/3). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday": The segment includes comments from Roberts (Neary, "Weekend Edition Saturday," NPR, 11/4). Audio of the segment is available online.