Libyan Court Sentences Bulgarian Health Care Workers to Death for Allegedly Infecting Libyan Children With HIV
A five-judge panel of a Libyan court on Thursday sentenced to death by firing squad six Bulgarian health care workers and a Palestinian doctor accused of deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV through contaminated blood products, Reuters reports (Sarrar, Reuters, 5/6). Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi initially accused the health workers of taking orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service to kill Libyan children in order to destabilize the country. However, some European governments and human rights groups say that the Libyan Health Ministry failed to screen blood products adequately and allowed poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, where the children were infected. The health care workers have been detained in Libya since early 1999 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/29). Under Libyan law, people sentenced to death have an automatic right to appeal (Al-Deeb, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5/6). "The verdict not only will be appealed, but we will make every possible effort to declare the medics not guilty," Bulgarian government spokesperson Dimitar Tsonev said (Al-Deeb, Associated Press, 5/6).
"The verdict is fair. What they did is a crime against humanity. They planted a bomb inside our children," Ramdane Ali Mohamed, whose sister was infected in the hospital and died of AIDS-related causes, said (Reuters, 5/6). "The verdict is totally unacceptable to the Bulgarian government and all institutions that were involved in the defense of the Bulgarian medics," Tsonev said, adding, "The government will continue to pursue its policy to seek support from the international community -- the European Union and the United States -- to ensure ... fair treatment at the higher court because by no means is this verdict compatible with the notion of justice" (SeeNews, 5/6). Bulgarian Parliament Speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov said he was confident that the sentences would not be carried out, according to Reuters. He added, "First, they can be appealed. Secondly, Libya has not executed death sentences in nine years, and I'd be very surprised if they started now. Thirdly, I expect Kadafi to act like a humanist to win certain political credit, which he needs from world public opinion" (Reuters, 5/6). Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy has said the outcome will be "key" to whether Libya is allowed to join an E.U. partnership with other countries in the Mediterranean basin, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse, 5/6). U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday following a meeting with Passy, who was visiting the United States, told reporters that the U.S. government will "continue to follow the matter very closely and do everything we can to bring pressure on the Libyan government to resolve this matter so these people are released and can return home" (Agence France-Presse, 5/5).