Bulgaria To Press Charges Against Libyan Police Officers in HIV Infection Case
A Bulgarian senior prosecutor on Wednesday said the country within four months will bring charges against 11 Libyan police officers for allegedly torturing five Bulgarian nurses into confessing to allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, Reuters reports (Reuters, 1/31). The five nurses and a Palestinian doctor in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting 426 children through contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. The Libyan Supreme Court in December 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered a retrial in a lower court. A court in Tripoli, Libya, last month convicted the health workers and sentenced them to death. The health workers say they are innocent of the charges, claiming that they were forced to confess and that they were tortured by Libyan officials during interrogations. The European Parliament on Jan. 18 in a resolution called on European Union member states to review their trade relations with Libya and to urge the country to release the medical workers (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/30). A Libyan court in June 2005 acquitted nine police officers who had been charged with torturing the medical workers and forcing them to confess (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/9/05). Sofia, Bulgaria, prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov said the charges would allow him to begin a judicial investigation, which could lead to a trial. "After completing the necessary police investigation, we believe there is enough evidence proving a crime," Kokinov said. Othman al-Bizanti, a Libyan lawyer representing the five nurses, on Monday said that the nurses have been accused of slandering the police officers with the torture claims and that they will be questioned on Feb. 11. Bulgarian chief prosecutor Boris Velchev said the slander charges are "an obscenity," adding, "The evidence that we have points out that the nurses were indeed tortured. Nobody in Bulgaria has any doubts about that." Trayan Markovski, coordinator of the nurses' Bulgarian defense team, said the questioning on the slander charges is a "good opportunity for the truth to be heard in Libya" (Simeonova, AFP/France 24, 1/30).
Italy's Prime Minister Discusses Medical Workers Release With Gaddafi
In related news, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on Monday during an African Union summit in Ethiopia met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to discuss the release of the six medical workers, Reuters reports. Prodi said he approached Gaddafi in a "very heartfelt way because this is a problem that has been going on for eight years." Prodi added that Gaddafi said that there still are "problems of reparations and compensation" to the families of the HIV-positive children but that "he would reflect on what [Prodi] told him and [they] would talk about it again" (Reuters, 1/30). Libya earlier this week proposed a plan to release the medical workers, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- the son of Muammar Gaddafi and head of Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations -- said in a statement to a Bulgarian newspaper. "We have proposed a road map with solutions (satisfying) all parties: the parents, the Libyan government, the Bulgarian side, the E.U.," Seif al-Islam Gaddafi said. He added that the plan calls for "substantial compensation for the families of those affected" and the release of Libyan officer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who is in a Scottish jail for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. According to Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, he has discussed the proposal with the foreign ministers of Germany and France (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/30). The U.S. on Tuesday responded to Seif al-Islam Gaddafi's announcement. Sean McCormack, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said, "If, in fact, the Libyans do act on what this gentleman has said, certainly that would be welcome ... news on many, many fronts" (AFP/Yahoo News, 1/30).