E.U. Commissioner Asks Libyan Prime Minister To Release Bulgarian Nurses Sentenced to Death for Allegedly Infecting Children With HIV
E.U. External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner on Wednesday encouraged Libyan Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem to release and review the death sentences of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who allegedly infected about 400 Libyan children with HIV and who have been detained in Libya since 1999, Reuters reports (Alison, Reuters, 5/25). The Libyan Supreme Court in March opened a hearing on the case of the health care workers, who in May 2004 were sentenced by a lower court to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting the children with HIV through contaminated blood products. The workers also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. Libyan Leader Moammar Kadafi has accused the health workers of taking orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service to kill the children in order to destabilize the country. However, some European governments and human rights groups say that the infections likely are the result of the Libyan Health Ministry's failure to screen blood products adequately and poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, where the children were infected. The Libyan government previously has said it would free the nurses if the Bulgarian government paid compensation equal to the amount Libya paid to relatives of the victims of the 1988 plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which reportedly was carried out by Libyan secret service agents. Bulgaria so far has declined to pay compensation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/12). The health care workers say they are innocent of the charges, claiming they were forced to confess while being tortured. The Libyan Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case on Monday, according to Reuters.
Ferrero-Waldner Visit to Libya
The European Union does not accept the evidence against the health care workers on "scientific grounds" and opposes the death penalty in all cases, Reuters reports. Ferrero-Waldner on Tuesday met with Ghanem in Tripoli, Libya, about the case and also met four of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor in prison. "I raised these cases with the prime minister, and I underlined Europe's strong desire to see the evidence that led to these convictions re-examined and that they be released as soon as possible," Ferrero-Waldner said. She also visited some of the HIV-positive children at the Al Fateh Children's Hospital, according to Reuters. Ferrero-Waldner said the hospital would receive the "best available" E.U. technology and support to treat HIV-positive people, Reuters reports. "We have great compassion and sympathy to what has happened in Benghazi," Ferrero-Waldner said, adding, "I was deeply moved by seeing the children and families" (Reuters, 5/25). Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on Thursday is scheduled to visit Tripoli at Kadafi's invitation and is expected to discuss the health care workers' case, BBC News reports (BBC News, 5/23). Samuel Kobia -- general secretary of the World Council of Churches, which comprises members of 340 Christian denominations -- on Tuesday in a letter to Kadafi asked him to grant clemency to the health care workers (AFP/Yahoo! News, 5/24). In addition, Physicians for Human Rights on Wednesday in a statement called for the "immediate and unconditional" release of the health workers, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 5/25).
Police Officer Trial
A Libyan court on Tuesday began a trial of nine Libyan police officers and a physician charged with torturing the health care workers to extract confessions, Reuters reports (Reuters, 5/25). The court heard from attorneys for the accused Libyans, the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor, according to a Libyan foreign ministry statement. Mohamad al-Moghrabi, an attorney for the Libyans, said that his clients are "innocent and this matter is completely made up," adding, "The real matter is about killing children. The Bulgarian nurses used Libyan children as guinea pigs and now they are playing the victims" (Agence France-Presse, 5/24). The court has said it will rule in the police officers' case on June 7 (Reuters, 5/25).