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Libyan Prosecutor Demands Death Penalty for Health Care Workers Accused of Intentionally Infecting Children With HIV

September 10, 2003

A Libyan prosecutor on Monday demanded death sentences be given to one Palestinian and six Bulgarian health care workers who are accused of intentionally infecting hundreds of children with HIV, Reuters reports. A civil prosecutor also demanded about $10 million in compensation for the families of each HIV-positive child. Although the number of HIV-positive children was previously estimated to be 393, the civil prosecutor on Monday said that the number was 426, according to Reuters (Reuters, 9/8). The seven health care workers, including two physicians and five nurses, have been detained in Libya since early 1999 on charges that they deliberately infected children with HIV through contaminated blood products.

Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French researcher who co-discovered HIV, earlier this month testified on behalf of the health workers, saying that the HIV outbreak among the children was most likely caused by poor hygiene and negligence and was not intentional. Montagnier added that the HIV infections in the al-Fateh hospital in the northern Libyan town of Benghazi probably began in 1997, before the workers arrived, and continued to spread after their arrival in 1998 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/5). However, the state prosecutor called on the jury to disregard Montagnier's testimony, saying that he was asking for the death penalty based on evidence provided by a Libyan doctor and statements made to the police, according to Agence France-Presse. According to police, two of the nurses and the Palestinian physician admitted guilt, but the three retracted their statements, saying that they confessed after being tortured by the police (Agence France-Presse, 9/8). The court case has been postponed until Sept. 22, when the defense is expected to make their arguments (Reuters, 9/8). According to Bulgarian News Digest, the court is expected to make a decision in the case by Oct. 9 (Bulgarian News Digest, 9/8).

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