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December 20, 2006
Many readers are probably aware of this story, but those who aren't should be. A court in Libya has (re)sentenced six foreign medical workers to death for allegedly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV. That sounds insane on the face of it, and (as you would well imagine) the evidence for any such thing is just not there.
Instead, this seems to be a problem with poor hygiene in the health care system in Benghazi, which is not something that stretches the imagination like, say, a deliberate plot to infect Libyan children does. The molecular biology evidence is that this is a local strain of the virus which was already spreading before the medics even arrived in the country. Nonetheless, the Libyan courts seem determined to make a huge case out of this, and the Libyan media (state-run, needless to say) have been whipping up the crowds.
No one can say how this will play out, because there are still many slow, painful steps to go in the Libyan legal process, which certainly seems rather baroque for a country not exactly used to the rule of law. With Libya trying to open up to the West and bring in foreign investment, a horribly circus like this would seem to be just what they don't need. But it's already been dragging on for a couple of years now, in the face of all evidence and reason.
As I've said before, one of my general rules is that questions which begin with "I wonder how come they. . ." are often answered with "money". And that's probably the case here. Speculation is that all of this will come down to paying Libya some sort of "compensation". That's a nice word for what's really just an ugly, immoral shakedown - the sort of thing that the better class of gangster might feel is beneath them. Not the government of Libya, however. The Libyan people deserve better. The medics in this case, for their part, deserve to be freed immediately.
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