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Libyan Court Postpones Verdict in AIDS Case Against Foreigners

September 24, 2001

Libyan judges put off a verdict in the case of seven foreigners accused of injecting 393 children with the HIV-contaminated blood, saying Saturday they needed more time to study defense arguments. "The court decided to continue studying the rebuttals presented by the defense lawyers due to the size and importance of the case," the head of the three-judge panel said, according to Othman el-Bezanti, the lawyer defending the Bulgarians. Held since February 1999, the defendants have pleaded innocent. Some defendants have complained their interrogators forced false confessions from them using torture. The next hearing is set for Dec. 22, when the court is expected to hand down its verdict, el-Bezanti told the Associated Press by telephone from Libya's capital, Tripoli.

The delay "shows that there is no firm evidence about the guilt of our citizens," said Elene Poptodorova, spokeswoman for the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry in Sofia. "The postponement gives hope that the time until Dec. 22 will be used to review all the facts," Poptodorova said. The six Bulgarians and one Palestinian -- all doctors and nurses -- face the death penalty if convicted of murder and conspiracy in the Libyan children's deaths. It is not clear if all those allegedly infected have died. El-Bezanti said that in explaining the reasons to postpone the verdict, the judges said "the court is keen on making sure defendants get all the guarantees Libyan laws ensure."

Critics charge that Libya could be trying to divert attention from horrendous medical conditions at some of its state-run hospitals, where, they say, disposable instruments are repeatedly reused and basic rules of hygiene are not observed. Libya could also be trying to make Bulgaria forgive its debts, estimated at $300 million. Besides the murder and conspiracy counts, the Bulgarians are charged with drinking in public -- alcohol is banned in Libya -- and engaging in extramarital sex. Nine Libyans charged in the same case are out on bail.


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Adapted from:
Associated Press
09.22.01; Mariam Fam


  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 
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