Libya May ‘Re-examine’ Death Sentences for Bulgarian Health Workers if HIV-Positive Children Receive Compensation
Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalgham on Sunday said the government might reconsider the death sentences of five Bulgarian health workers who have been convicted of intentionally infecting more than 400 children with HIV if the children's families are compensated by Bulgaria, Reuters reports (Reuters, 12/6). A five-judge panel of a Libyan court in May sentenced to death by firing squad five Bulgarian health workers and a Palestinian doctor who have been detained in Libya since 1999 and have been accused of deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV through contaminated blood products. The health workers also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the children, 43 of whom have died. Libyan Leader Moammar Kadafi 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. Two of the nurses and the Palestinian doctor have said that they had been tortured into making confessions (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/28). During the health workers' trial, Dr. Luc Montagnier, co-discoverer of HIV, testified that he believed the children were infected in 1997, more than a year before the Bulgarians were hired (AP/Long Island Newsday, 12/7).
Libyan Comments, Bulgarian Reaction
"There are three problems at stake: the families of the children who died of AIDS, the sick children and the Bulgarian nurses," Shalgham said on Sunday (BBC News, 12/6). "If the families of the victims are compensated and the sick treated in cooperation with the European Union, then the case of the Bulgarian nurses could be re-examined," Shalgham added (Smith, New York Times, 12/7). While Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Gergana Grancharova told Bulgarian national radio on Monday that "the Libyan side's readiness to reconsider the death sentences makes us happy," she added that "the issue about compensation as a way of buying off the freedom of the Bulgarian medics is not Bulgaria's agenda, considering the fact that compensations mean recognition of guilt in principle" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 12/7).
After meeting with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States will continue to "push" for the release of the health care workers, Agence France-Presse reports. "We have been pressing the Libyans on every occasion to resolve this question and release the Bulgarian nurses," Powell said, adding, "We think the facts in this case are clear. We hope that justice will be served and compassion will be shown." He also said that he did not know if Shalgham's comments amounted to "a change in position or progress" (Agence France-Presse, 12/7).