DARMSTADT, Germany (Reuters Life!) - A German pop singer who confessed to knowingly exposing two men to the risk of HIV after finding out she had the virus herself was convicted by a court Thursday of grievous bodily harm.
Nadja Benaissa, 28, from German girl-band No Angels was given a two-year suspended sentence. She could have faced up to 10 years in jail. Prosecutors had sought a lenient sentence because Benaissa had confessed and expressed remorse.
“I made a huge mistake,” Benaissa told the Darmstadt court in western Germany at the end of the trial Wednesday, adding she had kept it all a secret because she was afraid of what would happen if the public learned she had been HIV-positive.
“I was a coward,” she said. “I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. I wish I could turn back the clock and make it all not happen.”
Benaissa was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm in one instance for infecting a 34-year-old talent agent, and attempted grievous bodily harm for another occasion when she had unprotected sex with another man between 2000 and 2004.
She was also required to perform 300 hours of community service and submit to regular counseling sessions.
Benaissa’s lawyer Oliver Wallasch said the trial had been a stressful experience for the singer but that she had no complaints about the punishment meted out.
“I think on the part of the defense and that of my client one can be satisfied with the verdict,” he told reporters.
AIDS awareness group Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe (DAH), which had hoped for an acquittal, was unhappy with the decision, arguing that people infected with HIV now risked further stigma and would not be encouraged to come clean about the virus.
“I think this is the wrong verdict. This will do serious damage to HIV prevention,” DAH spokesman Carsten Schatz said.
Benaissa said she had been aware she was HIV-positive since a routine blood test taken during her pregnancy in 1999, when she was 17. The talent agent later contracted full-blown AIDS, while the other man was not infected with HIV.
Both state prosecutor Peter Liesenfeld and Benaissa’s defense attorney had sought a suspended sentence. Liesenfeld told reporters the fact she had made a full confession and expressed regret were the main reasons for the leniency.
Born in Frankfurt to a German mother and a Moroccan father, Benaissa and four others formed No Angels in 2000 after taking part in a television casting show.
The band became of the most successful girl-groups in Germany with hits such as “Daylight in Your Eyes” that were popular across Europe.
Benaissa, who has also worked as an actress in Germany, was initially arrested on the charge in April last year and spent 10 days in detention.
Prosecutors’ publication of her medical condition sparked criticism that she had been unfairly treated.
Writing by Erik Kirschbaum and Dave Graham; Editing by Steve Addison