Europe

Suspended sentence for German HIV singer Nadja Benaissa

  • 26 August 2010
  • From the section Europe

An HIV-positive German pop star accused of infecting a former partner with the virus has been given a two-year suspended prison sentence.

Nadja Benaissa, 28, was found guilty on one count of causing grievous bodily harm and two of attempted bodily harm.

The No Angels singer had admitted having unprotected sex and keeping her HIV status secret, but denied deliberately infecting anyone.

At the trial, she said she was "sorry from the bottom of my heart".

"I wish I could turn back the clock and make it all not happen," she told the court in the western town of Darmstadt.

As well as the two-year suspended sentence, Benaissa will be required to perform 300 hours of community service and attend regular counselling sessions.

'Cowardly'

Benaissa had sex with three people without telling them she was infected with HIV. One of them, a 34-year-old talent agent who was a plaintiff in the case, was confirmed as having contracted the virus.

Medical experts testified at the trial that they were in all probability infected with the same strain, as it was relatively rare in Germany.

She said she had not told anybody about her disease because she was afraid of the consequences for her career, which she conceded was a "cowardly act".

But she claimed she had been told by doctors that the risk of passing on the virus was "practically zero".

The BBC's Tristana Moore in Darmstadt says the singer looked nervous as the verdict was read out on Thursday, but she was clearly relieved that she was given a suspended sentence.

Presiding judge Dennis Wacker told the packed courtroom that she was guilty of grievous bodily harm because she had carelessly infected a former partner with HIV without telling him about her condition.

But the judge said Benaissa deserved a lenient sentence because she had confessed to her irresponsible behaviour, expressed remorse and "learned to be responsible and deal with her illness".

Our correspondent says he described her troubled past - how she was a drug addict at the age of 14, became pregnant at 16, and then discovered she was HIV-positive at 17 during a routine blood test during her pregnancy.

At this point during the summing up, the singer broke down in tears, our correspondent adds. A court official gave her some tissues and she continued crying.

Image caption Benaissa was arrested in 2008, just before she was due to perform

After the hearing, her lawyer said he was very satisfied with the verdict.

"We had a very fair and speedy trial. The aim of the defence and my client was to have a verdict which led to probation and this was the result," Oliver Wallasch told the BBC.

"Today will be a turning point in her life, as she now knows that she will not be imprisoned. Her reaction was emotional because it was the end."

A German Aids-awareness group criticised the verdict, saying Benaissa's partners also carried a share of the responsibility for becoming infected.

"If the responsibility for prevention is put entirely upon women and HIV-positive people, we are not recognising the combined responsibility of two people," Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe spokeswoman Marianne Rademacher said.

Benaissa was arrested at a nightclub in Frankfurt in April last year, just before she was due to perform a concert, and spent 10 days in custody.

No Angels were formed in 2000 on the international TV show Popstars, before recording a series of hits and emerging as Germany's most successful girl band.

They re-formed in 2007 and competed in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, finishing 23rd.

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