Bulgarian Civil Group To Nominate Five Nurses Sentenced to Death in Libyan HIV Infection Case to European Parliamentary Elections
A committee of Bulgarian public figures, lawyers, academics and journalists on Thursday announced that it plans to nominate the five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV as candidates in the country's election to the European Parliament, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports (AP/International Herald Tribune, 3/22). The medical workers 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, in December 2006 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 nurses currently are facing a slander trial after Libyan police officers Juma Mishri and Osama Awedan and a doctor, Abdulmajid Alshoul, brought charges against them because of their torture accusations (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/13). Judge Salem Hamrouni on Sunday postponed the slander trial until April 22 to give a Bulgarian attorney, who recently joined the defense team, time to study the case (Reuters South Africa, 3/25).
The committee on Thursday said it hopes the nominations would lead to the nurses' release by increasing support for their cause and by bringing the issue to the attention of other members of the European Union, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. Committee member Vasil Vasilev said, "This is no longer just an issue of the medics' personal tragedy. It has grown into a broader issue of Bulgarian national pride and self-esteem." According to committee member Vladimir Sheytanov, the nomination is a "creative way to rally support for the medics." He added that if the parties decline to nominate the nurses, the committee would do it (AP/International Herald Tribune, 3/22). Officials from Bulgaria's Central Election Committee recently objected to the nomination, the Sofia News Agency reports. Speaking at a press conference, CEC officials said that newly adopted rules for members of the European Parliament do not allow the nurses to be nominees or vote in the elections. According to the News Agency, residents of Varna, Bulgaria, have started gathering signatures in support of nominating the nurses (Sofia News Agency, 3/20).