An AIDS charity has expressed shock at the death sentence handed to five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor for infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV.

The case has been going on since 1999, but many medical experts believe the judgement is wrong, and the National AIDS Trust (NAT) claim the defendants have been turned into “scapegoats.”

Yusef Azad, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the National AIDS Trust said: “The verdict and sentence in this case are deeply shocking as there is overwhelming evidence to suggest the innocence of these healthcare workers.

“It is not the first time outsiders have been blamed for rising HIV rates instead of proper action being taken to reduce new infections. In this case the stigma and denial around HIV have turned these medical professionals into scapegoats.

“We call on the UK Government to intervene and make urgent representations to the Libyan authorities not to carry out the death sentences and release the prisoners.”

The defence team argued that the HIV virus, which hit over 400 children, existed before the medics began working at the hospital. The defendants also claimed that they were forced into making a confession through torture.

The ruling has also been blasted by Bulgaria, the World Medical Association, the International Council of Nurses and EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini.