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19 Dec, 2006 07:25

Medics accused of infecting children sentenced to death

Medics accused of infecting children sentenced to death

A Libyan court has found five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor guilty of infecting 420 Libyan children with HIV. The convicted medical workers have been sentenced to death.

The nurses and doctor have been on trial since 1999. During this time 52 of the 426 infected children have died of AIDS-related illnesses.  

The judge approved the death penalty, after reviewing several documents and holding numerous hearings.  

A 7-minute hearing in a Tripoli court was the latest episode in the 7-year saga, as Judge Mahmoud Hawissa read out the guilty verdict and death sentence.

The long story dates back to 1999, when the defendants were accused of deliberately infecting children with the HIV virus in a hospital in the city of Benghazi. 

The nurses and doctor denied the charges but in 2004 they were convicted and sentenced to death. 

The verdict caused an international outcry, and the Libyan Supreme court ordered a retrial in December 2005. 

The trial has been criticised by the international legal watchdog Lawyers Without Borders for failing to admit enough scientific evidence.

Another critic, HIV co-discoverer Luc Montagnier, testified in the first trial that the virus was already active in the hospital before the Bulgarian nurses started working there. 

Some foreign observers claim the nurses are being used as scapegoats for unhygienic conditions in Libyan hospitals.

Europe and the United States have also called for their release, and indicated that the verdict could negatively affect future relations with Libya, which have been improving in recent years. 

However, many Libyans supported the conviction and relatives of the infected children, about 50 of whom have already died of AIDS-related illnesses, demonstrated outside the court.

The defendants have maintained their innocence and plan to appeal the verdict to the Libyan Supreme Court.