TOPICS > Health

EU Condemns Libyan Death Verdict

BY Admin  December 19, 2006 at 4:30 PM EST

Bulgarian nurse behind bars

Johannes Laitenberger, spokesman for the EU executive branch, said that they were “shocked by this verdict.”

The six workers, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, were arrested in 1999 and accused of knowingly administering HIV through injections to 426 children at a Benghazi hospital, but defense lawyers and HIV/AIDS experts have argued that the children were infected prior to the workers’ arrival.

“Firm evidence based on international scientific research proving the innocence of our medics was not taken into account,” said Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov at a press conference in Sofia.

He referenced the court’s rejection of vital defense testimony by Luc Montagnier, the French researcher who first detected HIV, and other international scientists. They claimed the outbreak of infection was caused by poor hygiene well before the medics’ tenure began at the hospital in 1998.

“We need scientific evidence,” Francois Cantier, an international legal observer at the trial, told The Washington Post. “It is a medical issue, not only a judicial one.”

The judicial process for the six defendants has been protracted. After being taken into custody in 1999, they were tried and sentenced to death by firing squad in 2004, but the Libyan Supreme Court granted a retrial last year under immense international pressure.

An immediate appeal of this verdict to the Libyan Supreme Court is planned, said Trian Markovski, the chief lawyer of the defense team.

Both the United States and the EU have called for the release of the defendants, and the EU has even declined to rule out a cutoff of financial aid to Libya, which is still recovering from years of economic sanctions following the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner by Libyan operatives over Lockerbie, Scotland.