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Libya death-penalty trial ends

November 6, 2006 By Declan Butler This article courtesy of Nature News.

The fate of six health workers accused of injecting more than 400 children with HIV should be known before Christmas.

The verdict in the case of the six foreign health workers facing the death penalty in Libya will be announced on 19 December. The court in Tripoli set the date when the trial proper closed on Saturday 4 November.

Over the past few weeks, protests have mounted over the refusal of the court to hear scientific evidence from international AIDS experts. On the eve of this weekend's hearing, Nature published an open letter to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi from 114 Nobel laureates expressing their concern over the injustice of the proceedings.

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were condemned to death in May 2004 on charges of having deliberately infected 426 children with HIV at the Al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi in 1998. Those verdicts were overturned by Libya's Supreme Court on 25 December 2005, which ordered a retrial. This began on 11 May this year.

Independent science-based evidence from international experts has so far not been permitted in court.
114 Nobel laureates in an open letter to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi
The trial was scheduled to end with the defence making its case at a hearing on 31 October. But in a surprise move, the court allowed the prosecution a further hearing to contest the defence case that there was no evidence against the six.

Not fair

Little new evidence was presented in the second trial. The court held just 12 hearings, half of them adjourned shortly after they begun. Lawyers representing the six defendants claim that they were not given a fair opportunity to make their case, with the court refusing to allow independent scientific evidence to be heard.

In their open letter, the Nobel laureates expressed their "grave concern" over the fairness of the trial. "We appreciate the agony and the sadness of the parents of these children and we sympathize with the difficult situation of the Libyan authorities in trying to deal with this matter," they said "However, we feel that if justice is to be served it is essential that the defence should be permitted to present its case."

The letter notes that: "Strong scientific evidence is needed to establish the cause of this infection. However, independent science-based evidence from international experts has so far not been permitted in court."

It is too soon to say what, if any, effect the mounting swell of attention being given to the case by scientists worldwide might have.

If the six, who have already spent 7 years in prison, are convicted on 19 December, the case would go to an ultimate appeal in Libya's Supreme Court.

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  1. Richard J., Roberts , et al. Nature, 444. 146 (2006).


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