Declan Butler, a reporter at Nature, is calling for scientists to follow the lead of Lawyers Without Borders in speaking out against the sham trial of the “Tripoli Six.” There is also an urgent editorial in Nature calling for action.
Five Bulgarian nurses (Valya Chervenyashka, Snezhana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, and Kristiyana Valtcheva) and one Palestinian doctor (Ashraf al-Hajuj) had been sentenced to death by firing squad for infecting more than 400 children with HIV at the al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi in 1998. The Libyan Supreme Court ordered a retrial after international outrage at the unfairness of the original proceeding. During that trial, Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris and Vittorio Colizzi of Rome’s Tor Vergata University analyzed the viruses from the children, concluding that they had mostly been infected before the health care workers ever arrived in Libya. This testimony was thrown out in favor of a study by Libyan doctors. It seems likely that the cause of the infections was poor hospital hygiene, which doesn’t reflect well on the Libyan government.
The medics have now spent five years in jail, during which two of the nurses were raped. Muammar Gaddafi’s government has demanded $5.5 billion in compensation if the prisoners are freed. As the Nature editorial says, scientists should be speaking out against this travesty of justice:
The scientific community has also been relatively silent on the case, perhaps in the hope that it would be sorted out by diplomacy. But the latter has not proved to be the case, and scientific leaders need to use all their influence urgently, as the fate of the medics will be sealed in the coming weeks. It is time not only to save the doctor and nurses, but also to defend a common vision of science and law in establishing the truth, above all other imperatives. Meanwhile, Gaddafi has the opportunity to put this affair behind him by giving the six an immediate pardon.
International pressure was crucial in forcing the original retrial of the six health-care workers; Bill Hooker has information about places to contact with expressions of concern. Anyone with a blog or other platform can help by spreading the word.
Thanks to Janet for the pointer.