12-19-2006, 08:22 AM
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Libya sentences medics to death
Libya sentences medics to death
A Libyan court has sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death for knowingly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV.
The medics have been in detention since 1999, during which time 52 of the 426 infected children have died of Aids.
The nurses and doctor were sentenced to death in 2004, but the Supreme Court quashed the ruling after protests over the fairness of the trial.
The defendants say they are being made scapegoats for unhygienic hospitals.
Defence lawyers said the medics would appeal against the new verdict, expected to be the final appeal allowed under Libyan law.
The defence team told the court that the HIV virus was present in the hospital, in the town of Benghazi, before the nurses began working there in 1998.
They violated their obligations and sold their consciences to the devil
Father of HIV infected child
Western nations had backed the medics' case, calling for their release.
Bulgarian officials quickly condemned the verdicts. Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin described the ruling as "deeply disappointing".
EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini expressed his shock at the verdict and urged the Libyan authorities to review the decision.
But the BBC's Rana Jawad, in Tripoli, says it is highly unlikely that Libya's leadership will become involved in the case, at least in public.
Parents of the infected children said they were happy with the verdicts.
Some cried out in court as the verdicts were delivered, while others were gathered outside carrying banners.
SEVEN YEARS IN CUSTODY
1999: Nineteen Bulgarian medical workers arrested at Benghazi hospital after outbreak of HIV/Aids among children
2000: Five Bulgarian women nurses and Bulgarian male doctor go on trial along with a Palestinian doctor
2004-05: Libya convicts and sentences the five nurses and Palestinian to death; retrial subsequently ordered
2006: The nurses and Palestinian doctor are convicted and sentenced to death again
"For the second time, justice has spoken out with a ruling against those criminals and the punishment they deserve, because they violated their obligations and sold their consciences to the devil," Abdullah Maghrebi, the father of one infected child, told the BBC.
Tsvetanka Siropoula, the sister-in-law of one of the convicted nurses, told the Reuters news agency that the sentence of death was to be expected.
"I am sure they will be released, but it will take time. It is so sad that so many years have passed and they are still in jail."
The medics protested their innocence throughout the case, retracting confessions that they said were obtained under torture.
Medical experts including the French co-discoverer of the HIV virus had testified on behalf of the medics.
And the World Medical Association and the International Council of Nurses said Tuesday's verdict ignored scientific evidence.
Libya has asked for 10m euros (£6.7m) compensation to be paid to each of the families of victims, suggesting the medics' death sentences could be commuted in return.
But Bulgaria has rejected the proposal, saying any payment would be seen as an admission of guilt.
Story from BBC NEWS: