Medical Workers In Libyan HIV Infection Case Acquitted On Slander Charges

A Libyan court on Sunday acquitted of slander charges five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor sentenced to death for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, the New York Times reports (Brunwasser, New York Times, 5/28). The medical workers in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad 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. A court in Tripoli, Libya, in December 2006 convicted the health workers and sentenced them to death.

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. A Libyan court in June 2005 acquitted nine police officers who had been charged with torturing the medical workers and forcing them to confess. In the slander case, Libyan police officer Juma Mishri and a doctor, Abdulmajid Alshoul, asked for $3.9 million each in compensation for the nurses’ torture accusations. A Libyan prosecutor asked the court to give the medical workers the maximum sentence, which lawyers have said could have been a six-year prison term and financial compensation. Another Libyan police officer, Osama Awedan, in March joined the slander lawsuit. Awedan asked for $5.4 million in compensation for distress caused by the torture allegations (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/13).

Judge Salem Hamrouni in a hearing Sunday that lasted 10 minutes said the court “dismisses the accusations.” Dimitar Tsanchev, a spokesperson for the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, said the acquittal “will allow an overall solution to be found for this painful case,” adding that Bulgaria is “very satisfied with the activity in recent weeks” on behalf of the nurses. According to the Times, the acquittal came as the Libyan Supreme Court is considering the final appeal of the death sentences and as the families of the HIV-positive children are negotiating a settlement with the European Commission that could allow the medical workers to be pardoned. The Gaddafi Foundation — which is led by Saif al-Islam, son of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi — on Sunday released a statement that said a resolution in the case likely will be reached soon, the Times reports

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