Medicine Politics

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.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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