Libya AIDS trial adjourned again

TRIPOLI (AFP) — Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the AIDS virus appeared in court on Tuesday in the retrial of a case for which they were originally condemned to death by firing squad.

One of the five nurses, all of whom have been in prison for seven years, was not in court “for health reasons”, judge Mahmoud Huweissa said.

Shortly after the hearing opened, the judge announced that the trial was being adjourned until August 8 to enable the prosecutor to summon witnesses for the defence after none appeared in court as expected.

The court rejected a defence request for a new international probe into the reasons for the spread of AIDS in Libya but agreed to re-examine a report drawn up by Libyan experts.

An earlier inquiry by an international specialist, carried out at the request of Libyan authorities, concluded in a report in 2003 that the infections in the hospital were attributable to hygiene problems.

That probe was done by Professor Luc Montagnier, a French researcher and a co-discoverer of the AIDS virus.

The tribunal also refused a defence request to release the accused on bail, with the prosecutor saying that the “offered guarantees were not sufficient.” On Tuesday, heavy security was deployed around the court building although there was no sign of parents whose children were stricken with the virus. They have habitually turned up outside the court to protest at the renewed trial, with some demanding that the originally imposed death penalty be carried out. At the end of the hearing, around 30 people carrying pictures of AIDS victims tried to demonstrate by the building.

Defence lawyer Othman Bizanti said he hoped that “the tribunal will consent to open an inquiry into the torture [of the defendants]” and said the defence had given the court details of police abuse of their clients. During police interrogations, two of the nurses apparently confessed but they later testified in court that they had done so under torture. All the defendants have asserted their innocence. The six, who were first detained in 1999, were condemned to death in May 2004 after an initial trial in Benghazi in a case that strained ties between Tripoli and Sofia.

The supreme court ordered a retrial following an appeal last December.

The nurses and doctor, who worked in a hospital in the eastern city of Benghazi, were accused of having infected 426 children there with HIV, of whom 52 have since died of AIDS. 

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