TRIPOLI, (Reuters) – Libya”s Supreme Court has brought forward to Dec. 25 its hearing on the appeal of five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death for infecting Libyan children with HIV and will issue its ruling on Jan. 31, their defence lawyer said on Monday.
The appeal hearing for the five nurses and a Palestinian doctor was brought forward "…in response to the defence demand based on the health and psychological conditions of the defendants, who see their cases taking more than seven years," the nurses” head defence lawyer Othman Bizanti told Reuters.
"I believe the court will conclude the hearing of December 25 by announcing January 31 as the date for pronouncing its ruling on the appeals," Bizanti said. The hearing had originally been set for Jan. 31.
There has been no official confirmation of the dates for the appeal hearing and the final ruling, but Bizanti has close ties with government and judicial officials.
The five nurses and the doctor, in jail since 1999, face death by firing squad for infecting 426 children with HIV in a hospital in the Mediterranean port of Benghazi. About 50 of the infected children have died.
Bulgaria, the European Union and the United States have all said the guilty verdicts were unfair, and the case has hindered Libya”s efforts to return to good standing in the international community after decades of isolation and ostracism.
The nurses say their confessions were extracted under torture. AIDS experts told the court the outbreak started before the nurses arrived and was probably caused by poor hygiene.
Libya has suggested the nurses could be freed if the children received ample medical care and aid and their parents got compensation.
Government officials have remained silent on the date of the hearing, apparently to underscore the official position that the Libyan judiciary is independent.