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Prosecutor seeks suspended sentence in German HIV trial
  By Etienne Balmer (AFP) - 2 hours ago
DARMSTADT, Germany - A prosecutor called Wednesday for a suspended jail term for a German pop star accused of hiding her HIV status from sexual partners and infecting one of them with the virus.
Prosecutor Peter Liesenfeld called for a two-year suspended sentence for grievous bodily harm during closing arguments in the trial of 28-year-old singer Nadja Benaissa, a high-profile case that AIDS groups fear could harm their cause.
Liesenfeld said the singer, a member of German all-girl group No Angels, should receive lenient treatment because she had confessed in court and "shown an understanding of her guilt."
Her confession was "an important point that must be taken into consideration," he told the court in Darmstadt near Frankfurt in western Germany.
Benaissa, wearing a long grey shirt and black trousers, seemed nervous as the prosecutor completed his summing-up, and avoided his gaze.
"I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. I would love to turn back the clock, but I can't," she said.
During testimony earlier in the trial, the mother-of-one broke down in tears as she apologised for keeping her HIV status a secret from sexual partners, and denied intending to infect anyone with the virus.
A medical expert, Josef Eberle, testified that Benaissa had probably infected one partner, a plaintiff in the case, as they both had a strain of the virus that is relatively rare in Germany.
When she was charged in February with causing bodily harm and attempting to cause bodily harm, the news was leaked to the press, sparking a media frenzy and a debate about trial by media and presumption of innocence.
According to the charge sheet, the defendant had unprotected sex five times between 2000 and 2004 with three men and did not tell them she was infected.
Respected news magazine Spiegel described the trial as a "stigmatising witch hunt" and AIDS organisations expressed their concern that HIV carriers would feel pressured to take sole responsibility for safe sex.
"We are concerned about the result of the trial because it risks sending the message that you shouldn't get screened for the HIV virus because if you don't know, you're not liable," said Volker Mertens, spokesman for the German AIDS help association.
"The trial could also give the impression that an HIV carrier has a greater responsibility whereas we believe everyone should assume responsibility when it comes to sexual relations, for example by insisting on condom use," he added.
Lisa Power, policy director of the Terrence Higgins Trust, a well-known British AIDS charity, said Benaissa's age at the time of the first alleged incident should also be considered.
"It's a hell of a diagnosis to get at the age of 17. How many of us at the age of 17 haven't made a daft decision about our sexual and emotional life?" she said.
"I think there are some real issues about someone who was that young, and that confused."
The case also sparked intense media interest because the half-Moroccan singer shot to fame in 2000 thanks to a television talent show and went on to score a string of hits in central Europe.
No Angels split up in 2003, but reformed in 2007 and competed in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, coming 23rd out of 25 countries.
A verdict was expected Thursday.
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