SOFIA, (Reuters) – A Libyan court will hear an appeal next week by five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death on charges of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the HIV virus, a Bulgarian official said on Friday. “The court session on the appeal of the verdicts will be held on June 20,” said foreign ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev. Legal experts say the court might have several sittings or may actually rule on the appeal next Wednesday.
Othman Benzanti, leading lawyer for the five nurses, said he had been told the date of the appeal but gave no other details.
The five nurses and a Palestinian doctor were sentenced to death in December, convicted of infecting 426 Libyan children with the deadly virus while they worked at the children’s hospital in the eastern city of Benghazi in the 1990s.
In a Libyan jail since 1999, they say they are innocent and tortured to confess. Bulgaria and its allies in Brussels and Washington have intensified efforts to ensure their release.
Talks between the European Union and the association of the families of the infected children re-started last month and both sides have expressed hope a deal that may lead to the release of the medics could be reached soon.
Bulgarian officials said even if there is an agreement, it would not be taken into an account by the court, but would be taken to Libya’s High Judicial Council that has the power to amend or overturn decisions by the judiciary.
Libya has suggested it could free the nurses if an agreement is reached to pay compensation to the families, which have asked for 10 million euros for each child.
Brussels, Sofia and Washington have refused to pay compensation, saying it would amount to an admission of guilt, but have set up a fund to provide medical aid for the children and financial support for their relatives.