Libyan Trial of Bulgarian Health Workers Ends; Defendants’ Witnesses, Expert Testimony Not Permitted
The Libyan trial of seven international health care workers facing the death penalty for allegedly infecting 393 children at a Benghazi, Libya, hospital with HIV ended June 18, after three days during which the defendants were not permitted to call witnesses or present expert testimony, the Washington Post reports (Finn, Washington Post, 7/1). The defendants, a Bulgarian doctor, a Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses, have been detained since February 1999, as the trial has been delayed 12 times. Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi "heightened" public concern over the trial when he suggested on April 27 at an AIDS conference in Abuja, Nigeria, that the infections were "part of a Western plot" to spread HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/31). At the conference, Kadafi suggested the CIA or Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, was behind the alleged conspiracy. During the trial, prosecutors said the defendants infected the children with the virus in a "conspiracy to destabilize the Libyan state." According to wire service accounts, the lead prosecutor told the court, "(The defendants) have sold themselves to the Devil. To these (intelligence) services, child-killing is nothing new. In this way, they want to prevent Libya from playing an important role in the Arab world and to disturb calm in the country. The killing of children by that virus is a means by which those secret services achieve their ends." Luc Perrin, a physician at Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland who examined 37 of the children, said the "most likely scenario" is that the "explosive spread" of HIV was caused by reused syringes, as at least 50% of the children also have hepatitis C and 40% have hepatitis B, which "suggests" needle sharing. "There is no doubt that the case of the Libyan government doesn't stand," he said. The Post reports that the Bulgarian government has put "intense" pressure on Libya and Kadafi, but has failed to end the case. Anton Girginov, a member of the Bulgarian government commission monitoring the trial, said, "For the regime ... to be accountable for its own mistakes is practically impossible, and so it is eagerly blaming foreigners. They have used torture instead of expert opinion and they have done everything to avoid getting at the truth." A verdict in the case is scheduled to be handed down on Sept. 22 (Washington Post, 7/1).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.