Six health workers sentenced to death in Libya

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 13 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1153
  1. Katka Krosnar
  1. Prague

    Six foreign health workers have been sentenced to death in Libya for allegedly deliberately infecting almost 400 Libyan children with HIV.

    A male Palestinian doctor and five female nurses from Bulgaria were sentenced to death by firing squad.

    Charges were brought against them after 393 children became infected with HIV at the Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi. The health workers were found guilty of causing the death of 40 children by deliberately injecting the patients with blood contaminated with HIV.

    The workers have been held in prison for five years since being arrested in 1999. A Bulgarian doctor, Zdravko Georgiev, was sentenced to four years in prison but was to be released as he had already served this time, and nine Libyan former hospital managers and staff who had also been charged in the case were acquitted.

    During the trial, Professor Luc Montagnier, who discovered HIV, and Professor Vittorio Collizzi, of the Virology and Immunopathology Laboratory at Tor Vergata University in Rome, testified that the mass scale infection was due to the poor hygiene standards at the hospital that predated the foreign health workers' employment there.

    The defendants denied the charges, and some complained that their interrogators extracted confessions using torture, including electric shocks and beating.

    The court verdict has been condemned by politicians and organisations worldwide.

    A spokeswoman for Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry, Gergana Granchiarova, said the Bulgarian government would appeal the decision and do everything possible to win the workers' release.

    “We can only express shock and utter disbelief at the decision. It is unacceptable for all those who expected a fair conclusion of a trial that has lasted for more than five years,” she told the BMJ.

    Six Bulgarian health workers—five nurses and a doctor—and a Palestinian doctor watch proceedings in a Libyan courtroom. All but the Bulgarian doctor were sentenced to death


    “During the trial no convincing evidence for the culpability of our nationals was presented. According to the unanimous opinion of the world's most renowned AIDS experts, the cause of the spread of AIDS in Benghazi was an in-hospital infection, which had broken out before our medical staff began working there. The Libyan court has not taken into consideration these facts,” she added.

    The International Council of Nurses and the World Medical Association—as well as European institutions—said they would continue to fight against the decision.

    The sentenced doctor is Ashraf al-Hajuj and the nurses are Kristiana Vulcheva, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Skropilo, Valya Chervenyashka, Snezhana Dimitrova.

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