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 LIBYA TRADES BULGARIA'S MEDICS DEATH FOR LIFE JAIL

LIBYA TRADES BULGARIA'S MEDICS DEATH FOR LIFE JAIL

7/18/2007 11:29:57 AM
Libya's High Judiciary Council has commuted the death verdicts of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor for life sentences, it was officially announced late on Tuesday.

The six medics were sentenced to death for deliberately causing an HIV outbreak at a Benghazi hospital and infecting with the virus that causes AIDS more than 400 children.

The decision of High Judiciary Council, termed under Libyan legislation as partial pardoning, was expected even though hopes were high that justice will rule after more than eight years of agony and the six medics will be released.

The ruling came hours after relatives of the HIV-infected children dropped their demands for execution of the medics as all of them received their compensations under a deal that was expected to lead to the defendants' freedom.

Relatives of the children accepted compensation worth USD 1 M per child. Under Islamic law financial compensation offsets the death penalty.

The relatives submitted to Libya's High Judiciary Council an official paper that proves they do not want the Bulgarians to be executed, clearing the way for the semi-political body to have the final ruling on the medics' death verdicts.

The nine-member body, headed by the minister of justice, could approve, reject or cancel the medics' death sentences, which have been confirmed by the Supreme Cassation Court on July 11.

The paper was one of two key documents that should guarantee the council's session will spell the end of the prolonged travesty HIV trial. The other one is paperwork petitioning for pardon that was signed by the medics over the weekend.

The council was initially due to meet on Monday, but as Bulgaria held its breath to hear the last ruling in this case, confusion surrounded the time and place where it would be held.

In the end, it met late in the evening, but reports were contradictory - most reports on Monday claimed that the council did not discuss the issue, but Darik News' correspondent in Libya claimed on Tuesday that the council has indeed talked about the issue, but was missing a key document before overturning the medics' death sentence.

The six medics have been detained since 1999 on charges of deliberately infecting the children with HIV and were sentenced to death in 2004. Following an appeal and a re-trial, they were sentenced to death for a second time last year.

The five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor say they are innocent of giving tainted blood to the children. They argue that poor hygiene was to blame for the infections.

Major scientific reports by Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, and Vittorio Colizzi, an AIDS researcher at the University of Tor Vergata in Rome, Italy, have proved beyond doubt that unhygienic medical practices fuelled the outbreak.

On the basis of case records and genomic analyses done in Europe, they proved that some of the children had been infected even before the workers' arrival at the hospital. The HIV infections, the experts concluded, were caused by poor sanitary practices. But this scientific evidence was ultimately thrown out.

It was as early as at the beginning of 2005 that families of HIV-infected children voiced willingness to negotiate passing life-time sentences on the nurses and the doctor.
 
Sofia News Agency 
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