IMAGE: Libyan HIV convictions upheld
Sabri El Mhedwi  /  EPA file
Members of the press interview some of the foreign medical workers whose death sentences were upheld Wednesday by Libya's Supreme Judicial Council.
updated 7/11/2007 5:02:36 AM ET 2007-07-11T09:02:36

Libya’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentences of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting more than 400 children with the AIDS virus. But the verdict may not be the final word in the case.

Libya’s Supreme Judicial Council, which is headed by the minister of justice, could approve or reject the convictions or set lighter sentences.

“The court has accepted the appeal in principal but rejects its content, therefore the court decided to uphold the verdict against them,” Judge Fathi Dahan told the courtroom.

The five nurses and the Palestinian doctor were not present in the court for the appeal hearing.

In announcing the verdict, the judge didn’t mention a settlement announced Tuesday by a foundation headed by the Libyan leader’s son. The Gadhafi foundation had said that the families of the HIV-infected children reached an agreement with the nurses and doctor but did not provide details.

Fierce pressure
Libya has been under intense international pressure to free the six, who deny infecting the children. The case has become a sticking point in Libya’s attempts to rebuild ties with the United States and Europe. President Bush called on Libya last month to free the medics.

The six began working at the hospital in the city of Benghazi in 1998 and were arrested the next year after more than 400 children there contracted HIV. Fifty of the children have died.

The prosecution insists that the six infected the children intentionally in experiments to find a cure for AIDS. Defense experts testified that the children were infected by unhygienic hospital conditions. In their testimony, the workers said the confessions used by the prosecution had been extracted under torture. Several of the nurses have said they were also raped to force confessions.

The medical workers, who have been in custody since 1999, were convicted and sentenced to death in 2004, but the Supreme Court ordered a retrial after an international outcry over the verdicts.

In a ruling that shocked many in Europe, the second trial ended with the same verdict in December despite a scientific report weeks earlier saying HIV was rampant in the hospital before the six began working there.

Two Libyans — a police officer and a doctor — were put on trial on charges of torturing them and were later acquitted — which led to the six medics being put on a new trial for defamation. They were acquitted of defamation in May.

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