Prosecutor calls for death penalty for Bulgarian nurses in Libya

September 06, 2015

The six medical workers were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for allegedly infecting 426 children through contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya.

They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. The Libyan Supreme Court in December 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered a retrial in a lower court.

The health workers say they are innocent of the charges, claiming that they were forced to confess and that they were tortured by Libyan officials during interrogations (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/10).

"The evidence has been established and after the confessions of the accused and the witness statements, I am calling for the most extreme penalty, which is the death penalty," the prosecutor said (Geblawi, AFP/Middle East Times, 8/29).

The Bulgarian government expressed regret at the prosecutor's call for the death penalty.

Dimitar Tsanchev, spokesperson for Bulgaria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the accusation against the nurses is "not supported by compelling evidence and has already been rejected by world-known medical experts" (AP/PhillyBurbs, 8/29).

Bulgarian officials have said if the nurses are found guilty and given the death penalty, Bulgaria will request that Libya commute their sentences to life in prison to be served in Bulgaria. It is unclear if anyone will intervene for the Palestinian doctor, according to the Times.

Girl Testifies, Trial Adjourned

A young HIV-positive girl who allegedly was infected by the accused health workers on Tuesday testifed that one of the nurses "forcibly administered an injection" without explaining the injection's purpose (New York Times, 8/30).

The latest trial so far has heard from prosecution witnesses.

Defense lawyer Thaman al-Bizanti said that the defense has 10 witnesses but that they have not yet testified in court.

Defense lawyers also have called for an investigation into the claims of torture of the medical workers.

The U.S. on Tuesday reiterated its call for the nurses to be released.

"Our view on this remains the same," Tom Casey, a spokesperson for the State Department, said, adding, "We wish to see these individuals allowed to return to their families and to their country.

What happened was a terrible tragedy. This is a tragic incident involving these individuals" (AFP/Middle East Times, 8/29).

Libya's leader Muammar el-Qaddafi has said he cannot get involved in the case because doing so would undermine the independence of Libya's justice system (New York Times, 8/30).

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 5 (AFP/Middle East Times, 8/29). A verdict is expected next month, the Times reports (New York Times, 8/30).

This article is republished with kind permission from our friends at the The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2006 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.