Palestinian Doctor Involved in HIV/AIDS Case Files Complaint Against Libya for Alleged Torture During Imprisonment
Palestinian doctor Ashraf al-Hazouz, who was imprisoned in Libya with five Bulgarian nurses for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, has filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, saying that he was tortured while in prison, his lawyer said Wednesday, the AP/New York Times reports (AP/New York Times, 1/10).
Al-Hazouz and the 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 in July 2007.
Libya's Supreme Judicial Council -- which can approve or cancel the Supreme Court's decisions -- reduced the sentences to life in prison after each family received a compensation package. After the sentence was reduced, the six medical workers were released and pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov after arriving in Bulgaria (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/4).
"The facts of the case are pretty clear," al-Hazouz's lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said. She cited statements made by Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and head of the Gaddafi Development Foundation -- on the Arab station Al-Jazeera that the detainees had been subjected to electric shocks. According to the AP/Mlive.com, the medical workers signed statements before leaving Libya that they had been treated well in prison and that they would not file suits against the country. However, after arriving in Bulgaria, the workers said they had been tortured. Zegveld confirmed comments made by her client that he had been warned by officials from Bulgaria, the European Union and the Netherlands against suing Libya. Officials said the suit could undermine relations between Libya and the West and might endanger other foreign health workers in the country.
Zegveld said she hopes that Libya will formally apologize to the medical workers and reach a financial settlement with al-Hazouz, adding that without a case, al-Hazouz does not have "any leverage" (Sterling, AP/Mlive.com, 1/9). The U.N. committee oversees the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was signed by Libya. Its rulings are nonbinding, but it could recommend that Libya pay damages, according to the AP/Times. Al-Hazouz also filed a lawsuit last month in Paris against Muammar Gaddafi for the torture (AP/New York Times, 1/10).