Libya Sentences Six Medics to Death

The news story of the day may just be the tragic verdict of the show trial (I suppose all show trial verdicts are tragic) of six foreign medical workers in Libya accused of deliberately infecting 400 children with HIV. In

A Libyan court today condemned to death six foreign health professionals accused of infecting over 400 children with HIV in 1998. The court refused to take into account a swathe of independent scientific evidence indicating that the outbreak had begun several years before the accused began working there and was caused by poor hygiene at the hospital.

The defence say they intend to appeal to the Supreme Court, which would be the last chance that the medics would have of being acquitted. Emmanuel Altit, the head of the international defence team, says the international community can help by insisting that scientific evidence be taken into account.

Behind-the-scenes discussions are also ongoing between the European Union, Bulgaria, the United States and Libya to find a diplomatic solution (under Islamic law, victims’ relatives may withdraw death sentences in return for compensation) but so far this has proved elusive.

The verdict has prompted widespread international condemnation. “We are appalled by the decision of the Libyan court to sentence the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor to death,” says a statement from The World Medical Association and the International Council of Nurses. They emphasize that the denial of health problems that can promote the accidental spread of HIV, such as the use of dirty needles, is an ongoing, dangerous situation in Libya. “How many children will go on dying in Libyan hospitals while the Government ignores the root of the problem?”