Bulgaria Refuses Libya Request To Make Payment for Amnesty of Health Care Workers Accused of Infecting Children With HIV
The Bulgarian government has rejected demands from the Libyan government that it negotiate a "diya," or blood money payment, to win amnesty for five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian physician sentenced to death for allegedly infecting 400 children with HIV, BBC News reports (BBC News, 8/18). Under Islamic law, the payment can be made to victims in murder cases to prevent a death sentence. Mohammed al-Zaway, Libya's ambassador to Britain, said on Wednesday after talks with U.S. and British officials in Tripoli, Libya, "An agreement with the families of the children would reflect positively on the case, according to Islamic law," adding, "The amount that the Bulgarian government agrees on with the family is not an issue for [the government]. The important thing is the families' agreement." He told the Associated Press, "Libya will not accept pressure or blackmail. The issue is clear and the parties (in the dispute) are known, and they can reach an understanding. ... But we will not accept arrogant language from the West" (El-Deeb, AP/Arizona Republic, 8/18). However, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin said that paying any compensation to the families would be to accept the workers' guilt, which the country refuses to do (BBC News, 8/18). "There is evidence, including the opinions of world experts, which do not confirm the guilt of the Bulgarian nurses," Kalfin said, adding, "There are no grounds for Bulgaria to enter talks for compensation." He said that the country's new Socialist-led government will soon call for new measures with assistance from the U.S. and the European Union to solve the disagreement (Sarrar, Reuters UK, 8/18).
Libya's Supreme Court, which in March opened a hearing on the case of the health care workers, in May postponed the trial until Nov. 15. The workers were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 by a lower court 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. Many HIV/AIDS experts 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, Libya, 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. The health care workers say they are innocent of the charges, claiming they were forced to confess (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/1). The workers have complained that they have been tortured by Libyan officials during interrogations, including being jolted with electricity, beaten with sticks and repeatedly jumped on while strapped to their beds. Two of the Bulgarian nurses have said they were raped (AP/Arizona Republic, 8/18).