Libyan Supreme Court Begins Hearing on Bulgarian Nurses Sentenced to Death for Allegedly Infecting Children With HIV
The Libyan Supreme Court on Tuesday opened a hearing on the case of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly intentionally infecting children with HIV, BBC News reports (Partos, BBC News, 3/29). A five-judge panel of a Libyan court in May 2004 sentenced the six health workers, who have been detained in the country since 1999 after being accused of deliberately infecting 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 HIV-positive children. 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, Libya, where the children were infected (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/10). The court on Tuesday postponed its final decision in the case until May 31 (Sarrar, Reuters, 3/29). The nurses say that confessions on which the verdict in their case was based were "extracted under torture," according to Sofia News Agency (Sofia News Agency , 3/28). The torture allegations will be considered by the Supreme Court before it rules, according to BBC News (BBC News, 3/29). Attorneys for the nurses say that they have been denied access to their clients while their clients have been in prison, Sofia News Agency reports (Sofia News Agency , 3/28).
Kadafi last week rejected calls from Western countries to release the nurses, saying, "Everyone from the West comes to Libya and says to me release the Bulgarian nurses," adding, "This means that our children died, and this was not considered as important" (de Bendern, Reuters, 3/28). Libya has faced "widespread international condemnation" over the treatment of the nurses, according to BBC News (BBC News, 3/29). U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has notified Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy that the Bush administration will "do everything possible, everything within our power, to obtain the release of these prisoners who have been in Libyan prisons for much too long and without justification," according to the AP/Yahoo! News. The Bulgarian nurses also are receiving support from the United Nations and the European Union, which Bulgaria is scheduled to join in 2007 (Mann, AP/Yahoo! News, 3/25). Libya has said that it would free the nurses if Bulgaria paid compensation equal to the amount Libya paid to relatives of the victims of the 1988 plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which was carried out by Libyan secret service agents (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/29). Although Bulgaria has declined to pay compensation for the nurses' freedom, the country might "come under pressure" to write off some of Libya's debt, "perhaps behind the scenes," according to BBC News (BBC News, 3/29).