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Supreme Court hearing starts for medics facing death penalty

June 20, 2007 By Declan Butler This article courtesy of Nature News.

Last legal step begins for health workers appealing Libyan verdict.

The long-running case of six foreign health professionals sentenced to death in Libya enters its final legal phase today, with the first hearing of their appeal by the country's Supreme Court in Tripoli.

The international community has rallied around the six, who were controversially found guilty of intentionally infecting children with HIV. Independent scientific evidence has supported the notion that the outbreak was an accident caused by lapses in hygiene and contamination of medical material, rather than deliberate injection.

The court has fixed 11 July as the date for its ruling. Diplomats remain cautiously optimistic that whatever the verdict, a deal remains within reach to have them speedily freed (see 'Diplomatic talks spur hope in Libya HIV case').

Last resort

The Supreme Court appeal is the ultimate legal recourse of the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian medic, jailed in 1999 and sentenced to death in December last year. They were found guilty of injecting more than 400 children with the HIV virus at the al-Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi in 1998.

But should this court uphold the death penalty verdict, it can still be commuted to a different penalty by the Supreme Council for Judicial Authority, a political body spanning Libya's executive and judiciary authorities.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Union Commissioner for External Relations, flew to Libya on 10 June for further talks. These have "advanced a lot", she says.

Bulgarian authorities said this week that they had granted Bulgarian citizenship to the Palestinian medic, Ashraf Ahmad Jum'a. This means he is now an EU citizen, and so can be included in any EU-mediated deal.

It is expected that, this Friday, an out-of-court settlement will be announced betwen the EU and the families of the affected children. A payment towards the childrens' health and welfare would pave the way for a positive outcome for the medics.


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