Sun Feb 26th, 2006 at 06:48:12 AM EST
from the diaries. --Jérôme
February marks the 7th anniversary of the ordeal of five Bulgarian nurses, and two doctors, a Bulgarian and a Palestinian. However, the seven years in Libya for the medics have not been an inspiring and purifying experience like that of Brad Pitt in (Seven Years in) Tibet. For the medics, Libya has turned into Seven Years Bad Luck. (Bulgarian medical workers started working in Libya during Communism as part of the party's program for low unemployment. The higher salaries in the African country attracted Bulgarian doctors and this satisfied Libya's need for medical staff from abroad.)
Seven years ago the Libyan police arrested 23 nurses and doctors working at the Benghazi Pediatric Hospital. Seven of the medics (five Bulgarian nurses, and two doctors, a Bulgarian and a Palestinian)were accused of intentionally infecting 426 children and 20 mothers with the HIV virus.
Libyan prosecutors also charged the medics with being part of a conspiracy aiming to undermine the security of the Libyan state. Libyan leader Muammar Quaddafi publicly accused the CIA and Mossad of developing HIV and ordering the medics to infect the Libyan children.
The Libyan prosecution grounded its accusations on the confessions of the Bulgarians, who later renounced them, claiming they were tortured into making false confessions.
Internationally renowned AIDS experts investigated the case and concluded that there was an infection in the hospital before the nurses started working there. However, the court never took into consideration their opinions because two Libyan experts testified that only a deliberate infection could have caused an outbreak to this extent.
Prof. Luc Montagnier, one of the discoverers of the HIV virus, commented:
"We came to the conclusion that the HIV infection can't be injected deliberately by the medical personnel. We found out there was a problem with the hygiene in some sectors of the hospital. Unfortunately, our report was not considered during the second trial, when the nurses were sentenced to death, although it was ordered by the Libyan authorities".
What is troubling, therefore, is the shift of the focus of the trial from human rights and truth-seeking to political decision-making and bargaining.
The Bulgarian government began negotiations with Libya, but to no avail. It rejected the demands of the Libyan families for indemnities and participated in the creation of an International Fund, which aims to provide medical aid to the HIV-infected children. However, in 2005, the government spent only EUR 300,000 for the trial (By comparison, it granted EUR 8 M for a non-combat unit guarding a refugee camp in Iraq.)
The Bulgarian negotiators have taken advantage of the fact that the trial remains a key precondition for Libya's ambitions to improve relations with the European Union and the US. Meanwhile, the Bulgarians mentioned that they might back the writing-off of Libya's debt in exchange for the nurses' freedom.
On May 6, 2004 (an important holiday for the Orthodox Church) the six medics were found guilty of causing the HIV epidemic at the hospital, and were sentenced to death by firing squad (the Bulgarian doctor was acquitted, but is still not allowed to leave Libya).
While the societies of both countries have been actively engaged in the case, the five Bulgarian nurses are on the verge of their physical and psychological strength. Although they signed a joint claim against ten Libyan officers who had tortured them to extract false confessions, (after five adjournments) the officers were acquitted.
So far, the Bulgarians have strong international support, but the Libyans are not afraid to openly demonstrate their tragedy and anger. Libya has offered to spare the lives of the nurses and the Palestinian doctor if the UK hands over the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.
On Christmas Day 2005 the Libyan Supreme Cassation Court rescinded the death sentence and demanded a retrial. Its motivation was the procedure violations during the first trial. The prediction is that the retrial, which will take place in the same court that sentenced the medics to death, might start in March or April 2006. But this is one big MIGHT.
This year is DECISIVE for the trial (but this has been claimed for a few years).
(Because it was impossible to find Libyan sources in English, the data is mainly from Bulgarian media. You can find the timeline of the case here.)