Published online 25 September 2006 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news060925-2


Bloggers rally for liberation of the 'Tripoli Six'

Internet users spur on request for independent science evaluation.

Valya Chervenyashka, one of five Bulgarian nurses on death row in Libya, in Tripoli's Jdeida prison, May 9, 2005.Valya Chervenyashka, one of five Bulgarian nurses on death row in Libya, in Tripoli's Jdeida prison, May 9, 2005.Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch 2005

Bloggers have rallied around a call from a humanitarian lawyers' organization for greater international pressure to free six medical workers who risk execution by firing squad in Libya on charges of deliberately infecting over 400 children with HIV.

The lawyers' call, relayed by Nature in an editorial on 21 September (see 'Libya's travesty'), has since prompted at least 100 blog postings on the medical workers' case, with links to more detailed information. Some have also started letter-writing campaigns to politicians.

The movement, which began primarily with science bloggers, spread over the weekend to some of major US political blogs, including several posts on the Daily Kos, which is the world's most highly-ranked political blog according to the Technorati blog search engine, and has around half a million readers daily. The Daily Kos articles in turn have been linked to by more conservative blogs such as Instapundit.

"The penetration of this story in the science blogging world has been phenomenal," says 'Revere', a contributor to the blog Effect Measure, which is run by anonymous senior US epidemiologists.

The story's spread to both left and right-leaning political blogs is "significant", says Revere, as it suggests that the issue could gain non-partisan support in the United States.

Scientific evidence

“The bloggers must absolutely continue, it can make a difference.”

Antoine Alexiev
A volunteer with Lawyers Without Borders and a member of the defence team.

The case involves five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, who are charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV at the Al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi, Libya, in 1998, causing the deaths of at least 40 of them.

Scientists say the outbreak resulted from natural infections and that it had started before the medics began working at the hospital1,2. A report saying this was presented to the first court to hear the case but was thrown out on the grounds that that an investigation by Libyan doctors had reached the opposite conclusion. This leaves the second court without scientific evidence to consider in reaching their verdict, which is expected in November.

The volunteer organization Lawyers without Borders, based in Toulouse, France, wants Libya's courts to order an independent, international scientific assessment of how the children were contaminated. Emmanuel Altit, one of the medics' defence team, says this would prove them innocent.

The bloggers' response this week has helped, if only by raising public awareness, says Antoine Alexiev, another defence lawyer. The mainstream media has not generated sustained attention to the case because it has gone on for so long, he says, adding that perhaps the blogosphere, with less need for hard news angles, may "provide a good relay" for information on the case.


Bloggers have launched letter-writing campaigns to both political representatives in their own countries and to the Libyan authorities, publishing lists of relevant addresses and emails to help their readers find the correct target for their appeal. "The goal, now, is to push — and push hard — for an independent scientific panel to review the genetic evidence," says Revere.

Other blogs are pointing to an online tool, the Spotlight project , that can forward blog posts on the issue to journalists in the mainstream media.


"It's always difficulty to quantify the impact of such campaigns," says Alexiev, "but yes, they must absolutely continue, it can make a difference."

"There's no good way to know the impact," agrees DemFromCT, the pseudonym of one of the editors of the Daily Kos. "In this case, there's so much international politics it's impossible to tell whether it will help enough. But I do think the effort matters, and is important to do."

In response to the blog campaign, Mickey Grant, a filmmaker based in Dallas, Texas, today also made available for free on the Internet the full-length 1h 22 min version of his 2003 documentary on the medics' case, Infection.

Visit our wouldprovelibyamedi.html">newsblog to read and post comments about this story.  

A volunteer with Lawyers Without Borders and a member of the defence team.

  • References

    1. Visco-ComandiniU., et al. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses., 18 . 727 - 732 ( 2002).
    2. YerlyS., et al. J Infect Dis., 184 . 369 - 372 ( 2001).