Libya’s Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence for Medical Workers in HIV Infection Case
The Libyan Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the verdict for the six medical workers who were sentenced to death for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, the AP/Forbes reports (El-Deeb, AP/Forbes, 7/11). The five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor 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 Libyan Supreme Court in June heard arguments in an appeal of the December 2006 conviction that was filed by the medical workers (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/19).
In the ruling, Judge Fathi Dahan said that the court "accepted the appeal in principle but rejects its content," adding that the "court decided to uphold the verdict against them" (AP/Forbes, 7/11). He also said that by rejecting the appeal, the court "confirms the death penalty." Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalgam said the country's Supreme Judicial Council -- which is headed by the minister of justice and has the authority to commute the sentence or pardon the medical workers -- is scheduled to consider the case on Monday (Sarrar, Reuters, 7/11).
The Gaddafi Development Foundation on Tuesday announced that it has reached a settlement with the families of the HIV-positive children that would "end the crisis," the AP/New York Times reports (AP/New York Times, 7/11). According to Salah Abdessalem, spokesperson for the foundation, the deal was reached by the foundation and the group representing the families of the HIV-positive children. He did not say if the agreement involved financial compensation for the families, the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports (El-Deeb, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/10).
Libya previously suggested that it would free the nurses if compensation were paid to the families of the HIV-positive children. The country has demanded 10 million euros, or about $13 million, for each child's family. Bulgaria has rejected the demand, saying it would be an admission of guilt, but has agreed to fund the treatment for the children at European hospitals. The European Union has donated 2.5 million euros, or about $3.3 million, to the fund (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/19).
"This accord satisfied all the parties and puts an end to this crisis," Abdessalem said. He added that details of the agreement would be released on Wednesday. According to Aljazeera, there was no immediate comment from representatives of the families (Aljazeera, 7/10). In related news, President Bush recently wrote a letter to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that "noted the importance" of resolving issues, including the release of the medical workers, White House spokesperson Scott Stanzel said (Reuters, 7/10).