Psychological torture used on Bulgarian nurses in Libya

At a hearing in Tripoli the defence team representing a Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses accused of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV-tainted blood, have said psychological-torture measures were used against the nurses.

The defence lawyers have reportedly put before the Criminal Court a total of 211 instances in which the nurses were subjected to psychological pressure.

The torture claims are particularly important in the nurses case in order to disprove the accusations made against the five women, two of whom apparently confessed during police interrogations but later testified in court that they had done so under duress and appealed the ruling.

The nurses and the doctor have have already spent seven years in detention, and were originally sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for "knowingly" causing an AIDS epidemic in a children's hospital in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children.

The sentence caused outrage across the globe as world AIDS experts have said conditions in the hospital were ripe for the spread of infection and HIV was present there before the group began working at the Benghazi hospital.

The death sentence was then overturned by Libya's Supreme Court and a retrial ordered.

Following the latest hearing on Tuesday the case was adjourned to July 25.

The nurses had filed civil suits against ten Libyan police officers, accusing them of physical torture, but the Tripoli Appeal Court acquitted the men in June 2004.

It has been reported that police officers forced the nurses to undress before them, put insects on their bodies and set dogs on them.

The women were also deprived of water and denied sleep in a tiny cell without a toilet.

Police officers allegedly also threatened to infect them with AIDS.

Defence lawyer Plamen Yalnazov, as a result of that acquittal presented to the court only incidents of psychological torture.

Yalnazov has apparently based his claim on the United Nations's Istanbul protocol on torture and degrading treatment, which says psychological torture is a crime and has demanded a psychological assessment to prove the nurses suffered trauma.

Yalnazov has also requested that international HIV/AIDS experts be allowed to testify at the retrial about how HIV transmission to the children occurred.

Prosecutors have maintained the charges against the five women and the doctor for having "spread an epidemic" that infected over 400 children, 52 of whom have since died of AIDS.

The medics have the support of Bulgaria and the European Union along with the U.S. in their claims of innocence.

Libya has suggested the nurses could go free if Bulgaria pays compensation to the children and their families, who have demanded 4.4 billion euros ($5.5 billion).

Bulgaria has refused to do this but has joined the United States, the EU and Libya in agreeing to back the creation of an aid fund.

Experts believe the offer of aid may give Tripoli a face-saving opportunity to free the six.

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