Medical Workers Sentenced to Death in HIV Infection Case Arrive in Bulgaria, Receive Presidential Pardon
Six medical workers who were imprisoned for more than eight years in Libya for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV on Tuesday were pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov after arriving in the country, the AP/Boston Herald reports (AP/Boston Herald, 7/24). The five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting 426 children with HIV 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 medical workers then filed an appeal of the December 2006 conviction with the Libyan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction earlier this month.
The Gaddafi Development Foundation -- which is headed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- earlier this month said the families of the children accepted a compensation package of about $460 million. Libya's Supreme Judicial Council -- which can approve or cancel the Supreme Court's conviction of the medical workers or issue a less serious sentence -- reduced the sentence to life in prison after each family received the compensation package (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/18).
The medical workers arrived in Bulgaria with French first lady Cecila Sarkozy, European Union Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner and French presidential aide Claude Gueant. Sarkozy's delegation arrived in Tripoli on Sunday to negotiate the release of the medical workers (Los Angeles Times, 7/24). The deal to release the medical workers from Libya included steps to improve the care of the HIV-positive children, according to French presidential sources. "The return of the medics is a direct result of Bulgaria's membership in the European Union, of the solidarity which the E.U. showed Bulgaria," Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said.
E.C. President Jose Manuel Barraso said on Tuesday that the European Union now can normalize political and trade relations with Libya. "We hope to go on further normalizing our relations with Libya; our relations with Libya were in a large extent blocked by the nonsettlement of this medics issue," Barraso said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he plans to travel to Libya on Wednesday to "help Libya rejoin the international community." According to Nicolas Sarkozy, neither France nor the European Union paid money to Libya to secure the medical workers' release. Bulgaria last month granted citizenship to the Palestinian doctor, Ashraf al-Hazouz (AP/Boston Herald, 7/24).
The New York Times on Tuesday examined the role of Cecila Sarkozy in the situation (Sciolino, New York Times, 7/24).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday included a discussion with NPR correspondent Eleanor Beardsley about the nurses (Montagne, "Morning Edition," NPR, 7/24). Audio of the segment is available online.