Nurses Sentenced to Death in Libyan HIV Infection Case Could Be Released Soon, Ambassador Says
Five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV could be released from prison by the end of June, German Ambassador to Bulgaria Michael Geier said on Thursday, Reuters Africa reports (Reuters Africa, 4/26). The nurses and one 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, 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 health workers also have been charged with slander by three Libyan police offers and one doctor (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/24).
According to Geier, talks between the European Commission and Libyan officials likely will secure the release of the nurses. "From the latest information we have in Germany, as a result of activities between the European Commission and Libya, we understand that already during the German presidency" of the European Union, the nurses "can go back home," Geier said, adding, "Of course, their return will be bound to certain conditions, which at the moment are subject to talks." French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin recently said that the country and the European Union are taking steps to secure the nurses' release. "We want the liberation of the Bulgarian nurses," he said, adding, "And I think the next few weeks should allow us to advance towards this liberation" (Reuters Africa, 4/26). In addition, French presidential candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal on Thursday pledged work for the release on the health workers. "The aim is to do everything to obtain their release, particularly on a European level," Royal said. Sarkozy said that he wants "France to put human rights to the service of these women's rights. We cannot leave them in this situation" (Reuters AlertNet, 4/26).