A travesty of justice in Libya

I wish I could say that this was unexpected, but, given the politics and backwardness of Libya, it wasn’t. The Tripoli Six (a. k. a. the Benghazi Six) have been found guilty by a kangaroo court in Libya:

A Libyan court has sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death for knowingly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV.

The medics have been in detention since 1999, during which time 52 of the 426 infected children have died of AIDS.

The nurses and doctor were sentenced to death in 2004, but the Supreme Court quashed the ruling after protests over the fairness of the trial.

The defendants say they are being made scapegoats for unhygienic hospitals.

Defence lawyers said the medics would appeal against the new verdict, expected to be the final appeal allowed under Libyan law.

The defence team told the court that the HIV virus was present in the hospital, in the town of Benghazi, before the nurses began working there in 1998.

(Link, via Pharyngula.)

This verdict occurred even though the science clearly shows that the virus was present before 1998 and that it was almost certain that unhygienic practices at the hospital were responsible for the spread of HIV, not any wrongdoing by the health care workers. Sadly, our government has been utterly clueless about this whole affair.

Once again, Libya is trying to shake down the Bulgarian government, in essence asking for ransom to be paid if Bulgaria wants its workers returned alive:

Libya has asked for 10m euros (£6.7m) compensation to be paid to each of the families of victims, suggesting the medics’ death sentences could be commuted in return.

But Bulgaria has rejected the proposal, saying any payment would be seen as an admission of guilt.

There’s only one more appeal left, and I doubt that its result will be any different. The parents want blood:

Parents of the infected children said they were happy with the verdicts.

Some cried out in court as the verdicts were delivered, while others were gathered outside carrying banners.

“For the second time, justice has spoken out with a ruling against those criminals and the punishment they deserve, because they violated their obligations and sold their consciences to the devil,” Abdullah Maghrebi, the father of one infected child, told the BBC.


But Libyans strongly supported a conviction. Some 50 relatives of the infected children — about 50 of whom have already died of AIDS — waited outside the court early Tuesday morning, holding poster-sized pictures of their children and bearing placards that read “Death for the children killers” and “HIV made in Bulgaria.”

After the verdict, relatives at the court gates chanted “Execution! Execution!”

While I am sorry that these parents’ children developed AIDS, they are clearly ignorant of the science of HIV and have been fed a propaganda line. After all, if the Libyan government were to admit that it was the unhygienic conditions in the hospital, not the nefarious plot of foreign health care workers, that resulted in this outbreak of AIDS, the anger of the parents would be redirected to the government. Muammar Gaddafi may be backed into a corner because of the ignorance of his own people and looking for a way out, given that he’s been trying to rehabilitate Libya’s international image, but he has clearly cynically manipulated and exploited this case to keep the parents’ (and his people’s) anger focused on foreign scapegoats, rather than where it should be focused.

All I can say is: If there are any remaining foreign health care workers in Libya, they’d be well advised to start making preparations for getting out of there. It’s clear that they could become the scapegoats the next time an outbreak of disease occurs in a Libyan hospital, something that will happen, given the primitive conditions there. In the meantime, governments should work towards a face-saving agreement. Also in the meantime, it’s necessary for the blogosphere and, more importantly, citizens of nations who care about justice, to keep the pressure up. The same advice applies: Write to your elected officials. Mike Dunford told us how before, and his advice is still good.

Terra Sigillata also has more.

ADDENDUM: The ScienceBlogger who’s been spearheading the SB effort to bring attention to this case weighs in at Effect Measure.


  1. #1 The Loony Bassoony
    December 19, 2006

    An unsurprising but nevertheless depressing result. I wonder if anyone will feel the least bit remorseful when they realize that executing these charitable workers has done nothing whatsoever to solve the problem?

    One would think that Libya’s blatant attempt at extortion would cause the Libyan public to be a bit more skeptical of this case. But then, it’s not a country with free speech. The people are manipulated so heavily that many of them may not be capable of critical thinking anymore. (And those that are, probably quickly disappear.)

  2. #2 harpist
    December 19, 2006

    As a Bulgarian, I feel both saddened and enraged by today’s bad news. Bulgarian medics have worked in Libya for decades, my grandmother almost went to work there as a midwife back in the 80s.

    For all that help and charity from well-qualified doctors and nurses, to have Bulgarian medics held as a scapegoat for Libya’s bad hospital hygiene is offending. I support the idea of withdrawing this valuable help to a country that has allowed to be led by a perverse regime. Foreign medics should leave the country.

  3. #4 Bourgeois_Rage
    December 19, 2006
  4. #5 Luna_the_cat
    December 19, 2006

    I’ve been watching this story with growing pessimism and horror. The Bulgarian government seems adamant that they are not going to pay the “reparation”; I have the horrible, sinking feeling that we will see innocent people, who were only there to try to help, actually put to death.

    What those poor sods must be going through….

  5. #6 Hyperion
    December 19, 2006

    One possible solution (which I suspect is being discussed in some circles at this very moment), might involve the US stepping in and announcing a USAID grant to build a new hospital in Benghazi (and maybe more in Tripoli and elsewhere). After all, this would really only be pennies on the dollar in terms of total US foreign aid…but the one condition would be that the papers won’t get signed until nurses and physician arrive at an airport somewhere in the E.U.

    Conversely, one really off-the-wall option would be for Ghaddafi, who really doesn’t want this to destroy his efforts at bringing Libya back into the international community, to “accidentally” leave the prisoners unguarded in such a way that some sort of “daring” rescue mission could occur…essentially repatriating the prisoners without appearing to bow to international pressure.

    But yeah, I agree that this is unlikely, and it looks pretty bad for those six. As an aside, does anyone else think that the parents of the infected children sound eerily identical to the anti-vaxxers here in the states? I mean, it’s almost enough to make me think that there might be similar people behind the scenes pulling strings…especially since the parent quoted in the BBC piece was obviously using a pseudonym (“Abdullah Maghrebi” literally means “a devout father from North Africa” in Arabic). Methinks if you pull the curtains back on this case, you’ll find far more realpolitik than medicine.

  6. #7 Infophile
    December 19, 2006

    I have the horrible, sinking feeling that we will see innocent people, who were only there to try to help, actually put to death.

    They’ve already been tortured and (in the case of the women) raped. My sinking feeling has sunk to the bottom; it’s already a travesty. Saving their lives would be great, but it doesn’t undo the damage already done to these innocent people.

  7. #8 James
    December 19, 2006

    Loony Bassoony: “One would think that Libya’s blatant attempt at extortion would cause the Libyan public to be a bit more skeptical of this case.”

    The Libyan government is demanding the money in accordance with the Sharia tradition of blood money. Thus there is no reason why this demand would raise suspicion.

    I wouldn’t look for an anti-vaxxer-esque conspiracy here, my bet is the Libyan government (or some part thereof). They get to blame inadequate healthcare on them thar evul furrinars and maybe get some money as a bonus (guess how much of the blood money would actually reach the families).

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