Libya Court to Rule July 11 on AIDS Case

The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 20, 2007; 9:45 AM

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Libya's Supreme Court said Wednesday it would rule July 11 on the appeal of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death on charges of infecting about 400 Libyan children with the AIDS virus.

The court announced the date after final arguments from lawyers of the nurses and the families of the infected children and from the state prosecutor, who called for the verdict to be upheld.

The nurses and the doctor were not present at the session, which was attended by ambassadors from several European countries.

If the Supreme Court upholds the conviction and sentence, it is not necessarily the final word. When the December verdict was announced, Libya's foreign minister said a decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the sentence would go to a judicial board that could itself uphold or annul the decision.

Libya is under intense international pressure to free the six medical personnel, who deny infecting the children. The case has become a sticking point in Libya's attempts to rebuild ties with the United States and Europe. President Bush called on Libya last week to free the medics.

The prosecution insists that the six infected the children intentionally in experiments to find a cure for AIDS. Defense experts testified that the children were infected by unhygienic hospital conditions. In their testimony, the workers said the confessions used by the prosecution had been extracted under torture. Several of the nurses have said they were also raped to force confessions.

The six began working at the hospital in the city of Benghazi in March 1998 and were arrested the next year after more than 400 children there contracted HIV. Fifty of the children have died.

The medical workers were convicted and sentenced to death in 2004, but the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after an international outcry over the verdicts.

But in a ruling that shocked many in Europe, the second trial issued the same verdict in December _ despite a scientific report weeks earlier saying HIV was rampant in the hospital before the six began working there.

Two Libyans _ a police officer and a doctor _ were put on trial on charges of torturing them and were later acquitted _ which led to the six medics being put on a new trial for defamation.

They were acquitted of defamation in late May, a ruling that raised hopes in Bulgaria that the main conviction and death sentences against them could be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Also Wednesday, the judge refused a prosecution motion that an announcement from the Bulgarian government that the Palestinian doctor had been granted Bulgarian citizenship be used as evidence against him.

Bulgaria announced Tuesday that the doctor, Ashraf al-Hazouz, had applied for citizenship several years ago and that the procedures for his acceptance were completed last week.

© 2007 The Associated Press