‘Real Drama’ in Release of Medical Workers is Changing Libyan Regime, Opinion Piece Says
The "real drama" in the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who were imprisoned for more than eight years in Libya for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV is not in French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy's "agile grandstanding" or in negotiations among Bulgaria, the European Commission and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, but in the "deep changes in the Libyan regime" that the release reflects, Benjamin Barber, senior fellow at the New York-based think tank Demos, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece (Barber, Washington Post, 8/15).
The six medical workers 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 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, 8/9). The "real architect of the release" was Muammar Gaddafi, Barber writes, adding that he took "grave risks in the name of change" when he released the medical workers. The changes that began in Libya in 2003, when the country "gave up its nuclear program voluntarily," continue "today with gradual shifts in Libyan governance, its economy and civil society that have been largely ignored by the West," according to Barber (Washington Post, 8/15).