Palestinian Doctor Imprisoned for Allegedly Intentionally Infecting Libyan Children With HIV To File U.N. Human Rights Complaint
Palestinian doctor Ashraf Alhajouj, who was imprisoned for more than eight years in Libya for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, is planning to file a complaint against the country with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, his lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld announced on Tuesday, Reuters reports (Reuters, 8/7).
Alhajouj and five Bulgarian nurses 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 last month. After Libya's Supreme Judicial Council reduced the sentence to life in prison, the six medical workers were released and pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov after arriving in the country.
The Gaddafi Development Foundation -- which is headed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- in July said the families of the children accepted a compensation package of about $460 million. The 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 sentences to life in prison after each family received the compensation package (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/26).
According to Zegveld, Alhajouj plans to file the complaint in September over his "torture, delayed proceedings and abuse of evidence, among other things." Zegveld also said that Alhajouj wants European states to negotiate with Libya for compensation and that he plans to file a criminal lawsuit against the officers he alleges tortured him (Reuters, 8/7).
In related news, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi in statements published on Wednesday in Newsweek said the release of the medical workers involved an "immoral game" and primarily was the result of French efforts to provide more support for the Libyan health sector than European nations previously offered, Reuters reports (Reuters South Africa, 8/8). "[I]t's an immoral game, but they set the rules of the game, the Europeans, and now they are paying the price," Seif al-Islam Gaddafi said, adding, "Everyone tries to play with this card to advance his own interest back home."
Seif al-Islam Gaddafi also said the French offered "hundreds of millions of euros" to support Libya's health sector. He added that "it's not just about money, but about management and technical support ... to run the hospital, to manage the hospital with the French staff and to link it to the French hospitals" (Dickey, Newsweek, 8/13). According to Reuters, French President Nicolas Sarkozy the day after the release of the medical workers signed a memorandum of understanding with Libya. Sarkozy has denied any link between financial deals with Libya and the release of the medical workers (Reuters South Africa, 8/8).
Libya "deserves no plaudits" for its release of the medical workers, nor should "European negotiators take pride in an episode that, by all indications, is a clear-cut case of international extortion," a Washington Post editorial says. Although the workers "should have been released long ago" because they are "almost certainly innocent," no "ransom should have been paid," the editorial adds. There is a "broad agreement" that the reason for the HIV cases probably was "poor hospital hygiene," the editorial says, adding, "Nevertheless, convictions and death sentences came down and were upheld -- until, that is, the Libyan supreme court commuted the death sentences last month and Tripoli got its payoff" (Washington Post, 8/8).