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Home > Publications > ICSU Position Statements > ICSU protests against death-sentence for six health workers in Libya (Jan 2007)

ICSU protests against death-sentence for six health workers in Libya (Jan 2007)

Despite extensive scientific evidence in support of their cases, the law court in Benghazi (Libya) recently reconfirmed the death sentences on five Bulgarian nurses (Kristiana Valcheva, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, Valya Cherevenyaska and Snejana Dimitrova) and a Palestinian doctor (Ashraf Ahmad Jum’a)ii.

They are alleged to have deliberately infected several hundred children with HIV and yet there is strong and well-documented scientific evidence showing that the associated HIV outbreak was caused by poor hygiene and overcrowding at the hospital where the health professionals worked. During the most recent trial, the court refused to consider testimony from leading international medical experts, including those responsible for an independent scientific analysis that was requested by Libya in 2003iii. This analysis demonstrates that the strain of HIV with which the children were infected was already present and spreading prior to the arrival of the defendants in Libya. As of 19 December, 2006 the defendants now have just 60 days for a final appeal against their death sentence.

There have been extensive protests from the international scientific community, including an open letter from 114 Nobel Laureatesiv. There is a sense of outrage and hopelessness that the unequivocal scientific evidence, compiled by the World’s leading experts on HIV, and which demonstrates the innocence of those now condemned to death, is being ignored. The infection of innocent children by HIV is very distressing but to add to this the condemnation of innocent health workers, who were doing their utmost to help those children, is an offence to any normal notion of human justice. Scientific research has led to enormous advances in our knowledge and understanding of the HIV and in the treatment of those infected. This knowledge can also, on occasion, help ensure justice is served. When the lives of innocent people are at stake, it is the duty of scientists to ensure that the best scientific evidence is made available. It is the duty of governments, legislators and judges to ensure that this evidence is fully considered.

The International Council for Science, on behalf of the international science community, adds its voice to all those who have already taken a public stance in opposing this injustice. The Council urgently appeals to all its Member Organisations to actively engage through the highest diplomatic channels to compel Libya to ensure full and proper consideration of the scientific evidence relevant to this case. We respectfully and sincerely appeal to Colonel Muammar al-Gadafi and the responsible judiciary authorities in Libya to correct the grave injustice that is currently being administered.

1 January 2007

About this statement

i This statement is endorsed by the Executive Board of ICSU and its Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science (CFRS).

ii See http://declanbutler.info/blog/libya.htm for the full background, press links and chronology to the case.

iii Final Report of Prof Luc Montagnier and Prof Vittorio Colizzi to Libyan Arab Jamahiriya on the Nosocomial HIV infection at the Al-Fateh Hospital, Benghazi, Libya (April, 2003) http://declanbutler.info/blog/LIBYA1.pdf. See also, HIV-1 and HCV sequences from Libyan Outbreak (Dec. 2006) doi10.1038/nature444836a.

iv An open letter to Colonel Muammar al-Gadafi; Nature, 444, p146. See also Science, 314, p581.

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