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Foreigners in Libya Face Death Penalty in Case of 393 Children Who Contracted AIDS

September 21, 2001

In Libya, six Bulgarians and a Palestinian -- all doctors and nurses -- face the death penalty if they are convicted of killing 393 children by injecting them with AIDS-contaminated blood. The defendants are charged with murder and conspiracy in the deaths. A panel of five judges will hand down the verdicts Saturday.

The defendants have pleaded innocent and some have claimed that their interrogators extracted confessions using torture. The case has raised concerns among human rights groups and some in the medical community, who have complained about reports that HIV-contaminated plasma was discovered at a defendant's apartment while she was in police custody, and the court's refusal to allow expert opinion from Switzerland and France. Luc Perrin, head of virology at Geneva University Hospital, said the contamination was caused by "bad medical practices." Perrin, who examined 40 of the children, said at least half of them were also infected with hepatitis C, which suggests that the hospital had reused needles. The court has refused to allow Perrin to testify.

The case of the infected children was first brought to light in 1998 by the Libyan magazine La, which is based in the coastal city of Benghazi, where the Al-Fateh children's hospital is located. A few weeks after the reports were published, the government shut down the magazine. In November 1998, a group of desperate fathers interrupted a medical conference being attended by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and begged for his help. A few weeks later, the government detained scores of hospital staff before narrowing its list to the Bulgarians and the Palestinian. They have been held since February 1999.

Gadhafi has said the CIA or the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, were behind the children's illnesses. He has blamed other crises on the United States and Israel, which both accuse Libya of supporting terrorism. In light of the lack of witnesses and proper court procedures, diplomats have suggested that Libya might have ulterior motives -- including diverting attention from horrendous conditions at some state-run hospitals and convincing Bulgaria to forgive its $300 million debt -- for bringing the case to court.

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Adapted from:
Associated Press
09.20.01; Donna Abu-Nasr


  
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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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