At the urging of others in the science blogging community (and rightly so!), we’ve been asked to highlight the situation of the tragic Tripoli 6 (or Benghazi 6) and the new developments going on. A bit of a recap though, for those not familiar with who they are.
The Benghazi Six consists of five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian physician, who are involved in an ongoing trial in Libya regarding whether or not they deliberately infected hundreds of children with the HIV virus. Based on the confessions of the six, extracted under horrendous torture, they were all convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad. An subsequent appeal brought by the six December 2005 resulted in the death sentences being revoked and a re-trial ordered to take place.
The new trial began in May of this year, and has been little more than a farce. In June, the court denied permission for foreign experts to testify. When the prosecution rested in August, they suggested that the six be found guilty again, and the death penalties be re-instated. The verdict will be announced on December 19th, and unfortunately it is expected that they will again be found guilty despite the outrage of the international science community. However, it is also likely that they may be provided amnesty so the Libyan government can save face and bow out, but that outcome is not assured in the slightest. Much more info can be found at wikipedia’s entry on the ‘HIV Trial in Libya.‘
The six accused were charged with:
- committing actions on the territory of Libya which led to uncontrolled killing of people in an attempt on the state’s security (punishable with death)
- participating in a conspiracy and team negotiation for commission of a murder;
- causing an epidemic by injecting 393 children with HIV in the children’s hospital Al-Fatih in Benghazi (punishable with death);
- acting contrary to Libyan standards and traditions (including usage of alcohol)
Recent developments in the case are even more tragic, as evidence has arisen that the six did not deliberately infect the children with HIV.
In an analysis of HIV and hepatitis virus samples from some of the children, researchers conclude that infections had begun at the hospital and the surrounding area well before the five nurses and the doctor arrived in March 1998.
The available evidence suggests the children’s HIV infections resulted from a long-standing problem of poor infection control at the hospital, perhaps involving improper sterilization before injections, said Oliver Pybus of Oxford University
Idriss Lagha, the head of the Libyan Union for Children infected with HIV, a non-governmental organization, called the study “baseless and nonsense.”
Unfortunately this information will never make it into the court, which has refused to hear outside scientific opinions. The evidence and appeal has reached lofty ears besides, as evidenced by this brief communication in Nature where the results were published.
We found that, irrespective of which model was used, the estimated date of the most common recent ancestor for each cluster pre-dated March 1998, sometimes by many years. In most analyses, the probability that the clusters from the Al-Fateh Hospital originated after that time was almost zero.
Effect Measure has nobly documented this entire case and has issued the rallying call to scientists to stand up against this persecution. If all you can do is blog about it, or perhaps write your local or school paper, please do. At this point the only thing that will change the course of things in Libya may be a critical mass of international outrage.