Views on BG | September 20, 2001, Thursday // 00:00


A Libyan court is expected to announce on Saturday its verdicts in an unprecedented trial of six Bulgarian medics and a Palestinian doctor charged with deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV. The defendants, detained in Tripoli in early 1999, are accused of intentionally infecting 393 children in a Benghazi hospital with blood products contaminated with the HIV virus. The trial of the five Bulgarian female nurses and one male doctor began on June 2 after a long delay. The indictment said the infection was part of a conspiracy by foreign intelligence forces to undermine Libyan security and its role in the Arab world. All the defendants pleaded not guilty, as did nine Libyans who face similar charges. Officials and defense lawyers said on Thursday they were already mulling an appeal against possible death sentences sought by the Libyan prosecutor. `We inevitably should expect heavy sentences, including the death penalty, given heavy charges against our compatriots,` Bulgarian Justice Minister Anton Stankov told Reuters. `If there are convictions, we will appeal. We consider (the court session on) September 22 merely as a stage in the trial which will continue,` said Stankov, who heads a government commission set up to help the accused medical staff. The medics` Libyan lawyer Osman Byzanti said an appeal could take an indefinite time. `No one can say how long it could take for the Court of Appeal to rule on the case,` Byzanti told Reuters by telephone from Tripoli. `It could be a month, or two months, or a year. ``Libya has a two-tier judicial system in which the local court ruling could be overruled by the Court of Appeal. In case of death sentences, Libyan legislation provides for a third instance, the Supreme Court, and its ruling is final, Byzanti said. The trial has stirred deep passions in Bulgaria after two of the nurses alleged they had been tortured in prison and made confessions under duress which they revoked when the trial started. Libya denied the allegations of torture. Sofia`s best hopes are pinned on the son of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Seif al-Islam, head of the Qaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations, was invited to serve as an observer in the trial earlier this month. He played a key role last year when Libya successfully brokered the release of Western hostages kidnapped in the Philippines and Bulgarian officials say they believe he has experience in dealing with humanitarian crises. `For us it is very important that he has expressed a positive attitude,` a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. Byzanti said it was still possible that the court ruling would not be announced on Saturday due to procedural wrangling.

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