George Michael plays benefit gig for death sentence nurses

Christopher Hayes March 27, 2007
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George Michael, the former Wham singer turned solo artist, will play a gig in Sofia in May to help raise awareness of the five Bulgarian nurses jailed in Libya.

The event, which forms part of the singer’s summer tour, will campaign under the motto “You are not alone”, a reference to the five nurses who were sentenced to death in Libya on changes of deliberately infecting 426 children with AIDS.

In November 1998 it emerged that an AIDS epidemic had swept across a Children’s Hospital in Benghazi, one of Libya’s largest cities.

A total 426 Libyan children had been infected with HIV.

Libyan authorities took what they described as ‘precautionary measures’ against the Bulgarian doctors and nurses working at the hospital.

On March 7, 1999 six members of the group being held in isolation were formally arrested on the charge of deliberately infecting the children with HIV.

An investigation by the World Health Organisation concluded that the HIV infections had been caused by multiple sources of infections including poor sanitary practices in the hospital’s wards.

The findings were echoed in a final report by Prof. Luc Montagnier and Prof. Vittorio Colizzi, two of the world’s foremost HIV experts.

The report was submitted to the trial and formed a key part of the defence’s argument.

The defence team argued that the HIV virus existed before the medics began working at the hospital.

The defendants also claimed that they were forced into making a confession through torture.

However the prosecution put forward their own report by Libyan scientists that countered the claims of Montagnier and Colizzi.

The medics were eventually found guilty in May 2004 and sentenced to death by firing squad.

Although the sentence was successfully appealed against, the retrial resulted in another death sentence in December 2006.

As reported last year, many medical experts and human rights organisations have condemned the decision.

The National AIDS trust (NAT) claimed that the defendants had 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.

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

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