Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

September 20, 2006

Can the blogosphere help free the Tripoli six? — innocent medics risking execution in Libya

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya — admin @ 6:50 pm

“Imagine that five American nurses and a British doctor have been detained and tortured in a Libyan prison since 1999, and that a Libyan prosecutor called at the end of August for their execution… on trumped-up charges of deliberately contaminating more than 400 children with HIV in 1998. Meanwhile, the international community and its leaders sit by, spectators of a farce of a trial, leaving a handful of dedicated volunteer humanitarian lawyers and scientists to try to secure their release.

Implausible? That scenario, with the medics enduring prison conditions reminiscent of the film Midnight Express, is currently playing out in a Tripoli court, except that the nationalities of the medics are different. The nurses are from Bulgaria and the doctor is Palestinian.”

These are the opening paragraphs of an unusually strongly-worded editorial — ‘Libya’s travesty‘ — published in tomorrow’s issue of Nature.

It is accompanied by a news story over two pages — ‘Lawyers call for science to clear AIDS nurses in Libya‘ — explaining the case. (Both articles are on free access; to access free articles on Nature you just need to register once, and it is free.)

Here’s a key paragraph from the news story:

If international pressure isn’t stronger before the appeal, the risk is large that they will be condemned to death,” predicts Michel Taube, co-founder of Together Against the Death Penalty, a French non-governmental organization. “To avoid that outcome, diplomacy is not enough. We need international mobilization.”

It’s key, because what is needed is an immediate and sustained mobilization of international opinion, something which has been badly lacking so far. Bloggers, and the scientific community, can help create pressure on the authorities for the immediate release of the Tripoli six: Christiana Malinova Valcheva, Valia Georgieva Cherveniashka, Nasia Stoitcheva Nenova, Valentina Manolova Siropulo, Snezhana Ivanova Dimitrova and Ashraf Ahmad Jum’a

Here are a few more excerpts from the editorial

The most likely diplomatic compromise — that the medics will be condemned to death, with this being commuted to a life sentence — is unacceptable. They are innocent, and the law and science can prove it, if they get the belated opportunity.

That is why scientists should lend their full support to the call by Lawyers without Borders… that Libya’s courts should order a fully independent, international scientific assessment of how the children were contaminated.

The scientific community has also been relatively silent on the case, perhaps in the hope that it would be sorted out by diplomacy. Scientific leaders need to use all their influence urgently, as the fate of the medics will be sealed in the coming weeks. It is time not only to save the doctor and nurses, but also to defend a common vision of science and law in establishing the truth, above all other imperatives. Meanwhile, Gaddafi has the opportunity to put this affair behind him by giving the six an immediate pardon.

Lawyers without Borders — (In French — BabelFish translation here)
A 2003 independent scientific report on the matter by Luc Montagnier, whose group at the Pasteur Institute in Paris discovered HIV, and Vittorio Colizzi, an AIDS researcher at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, which concluded the innocence of the medics, and that the infections were caused by poor hospital hygiene.
A 2004 letter from Montagnier to Mouammar Gaddafi asking him to pardon the Tripoli six

I am centralizing other bloggers posts on the matter at the Tripoli Six tag on Connotea.

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