Monday, February 20, 2006
For seven years they have languished in a Libyan jail on absurd charges. They are accused of infecting over 400 children with HIV at Benghazi hospital.
In May 2004, dozens of the world's leading virologists and AIDS doctors sent an open letter, organized by Physicians for Human Rights, to Colonel Gaddafi protesting the death sentence of the health professionals. Signers included the co-discoverers of HIV, Professor Luc Montagnier and Dr. Robert Gallo, as well as virologist Dr. Ashley Haase, chair of University of Minnesota's Department of Microbiology. Professor Montagnier and Italian microbiologist Vittorio Colizzi sampled viruses from the infected children and determined that many of the victims had been infected with HIV before the arrival of the nurses and doctor in 1998. Furthermore, the presence of co-contaminants Hepatitis B and C suggests that the victims had been infected by unsanitary conditions at the hospital rather than by any deliberate action.
Last month a Libyan court overturned their death sentences, but they still face the very real probability of another show trial. It is way past time to end the madness.
Three articles follow. The first is from the Sofia News Agency. The second is from the Focus News Agency. The third is from the Sofia Echo.
Bulgarian Medics in Libya "In Grave Psychic Condition"
A French lawyer has called for the immediate release of the five Bulgarian medics jailed in Libya because of their "grave psychological condition".
During a three-day visit to Tripoli, Emanuel Altit and his colleague Ivan Panef visited the medics for about an hour.
They have spent in jail for seven years, Altit reminded after the meeting. Though the revocation of their death sentences in December, the medics are seriously troubled in the face of another endless period of trials, the French lawyer said.
Yet, Altit interpreted as a sign of good will by Libyan authorities the permission he was given to visit the jailed medics.
He was scheduled also to meet Libya's justice minister, but the meeting was cancelled arguing with the wave of protests in Benghazi over the row with cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
Families of over 400 Libyan children with HIV have asked for EUR 4.4 B from donors.
Libya's supreme court overturned death sentences against the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor last month, but they still face a retrial and could be re-condemned for deliberately infecting the children.
Seeking to end this standoff, donors from Bulgaria, its EU and US allies, and the Qaddafi Charity Foundation, a charity run by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al Islam, formed a fund to organise aid for the children.
French Lawyer Emanuel Altit Met with Bulgarian Nurses in Benghazi Prison
Prominent French lawyer Emanuel Altit held a long meeting with the Bulgarian nurses in the prison in Benghazi, the editor’s office of Paris News told FOCUS News Agency.
“I have visited the Bulgarian nurses for one year, but it’s the first time that I have seen them so sad and dejected”, Emanuel Altit said after the meeting. "The Libyan authorities should consider the poor physical and psychological condition of the nurses and respect the request for their release, which French lawyers submitted on Feb. 9”, Altit said.
It is concerning that the prison administration does not allow relatives to visit the nurses under the excuse that a new investigation has been launched, the French lawyer said. Apart from the nurses, he also met with Libyan officials.
The request has been received and will be considered, Altit said. He stressed that Libya showed positive signs and gave as an example the country’s quick permitting his visit.
Developments in Libya
A TOTAL of 100 HIV-infected Libyan children will be sent to France for treatment. This was agreed on February 13 after a meeting of the governing board of the Benghazi International Fund, Bulgarian news agency BTA reported.
The fund was established in connection with the case of the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of deliberately infecting 430 Libyan children with HIV at Benghazi Children’s Hospital in 1998.
At present, the medics are still in Libyan custody awaiting a new court hearing: Libya’s supreme court referred their original scheduled court date of December 25 2005 to a lower court for retrial.
The fund was formed after obtaining the formal authorisation of the Secretariat of the General People’s Congress of Libya as part of the international efforts to find a solution acceptable to all parties concerned in the trial.
The meeting took place at the office of the Gadaffi International Foundation for Charity Associations. It was attended by Bulgaria’s representative Dr Ivan Chomakov, mayor of Plovdiv and head of the non-government organisation Association for Promoting Bilateral Relations with Libya; Dr Mark Klein from the US; Abdelfatah Shibani of the Libyan Red Crescent; and the chairman of the fund’s governing board, as well as Marc Pierini, the European Commission head of delegation to Libya.
The officials made an assessment of the operation of the fund so far, and then met with the Association for the Families of the HIV-infected Children of Benghazi. The second meeting was presided over by Gadaffi Foundation executive director Salah Abdessalam, and took place in the presence of Pierini. Bulgaria was represented by Chomakov and Maxim Minchev, head of BTA - and Libya by Omar al-Amismari and Mohammed al-Emshiti of the Association for the Families, and Idris Laga, head of the association.
The officials drew up a strategy that was centred on three principal areas in the global action package.
The treatment of the HIV-infected children abroad was decided on as the priority task.
It was suggested that each of the patients in Benghazi be entitled to examination and treatment at five hospitals in Europe: one in Rome, one in Florence and three in Paris.
The procedure is already underway, with the sending of 34 Libyan children to Italy and with the next 100 children to be sent to France. The French government, together with the Benghazi International Fund, is financing the treatment in France.
According to another decision, all children will be accepted for 10-day-long examinations at European hospitals before the end of May 2006. The fund’s centre in Benghazi and the Association for the Families will shortly compile a definitive list of the infected children, which should be certified by an official Libyan institution. It was also proposed that the association would set up a trust fund in Benghazi to channel material support to the families.
The second task was agreed to be the comprehensive establishment and functioning of the fund’s centre in Benghazi.
IT experts are already working on this, and a sufficient quantity of medicines for this year has been procured. Other countries and donors have proposed to participate within the framework of international partnership.
Financial support for the families of the infected children was set up as third priority. At the proposal of the Association for the Families, the discussion on the specific financial parameters will be resumed when the resources for the fund are specified.
Association head Idris Laga reaffirmed that an early favourable solution must be found to two tragedies: the tragedy of the 400 infected children, and the tragedy of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor.
In addition, Laga once again confirmed that the parents demand compensation of 10 million euro for each infected child. The Bulgarian Government has so far denied several times the possibility of such compensation because its official position is that the nurses are innocent.
The next meeting of the governing body of the Benghazi International Fund will be held in Tripoli on March 13 2006. The fund is a non-profit non-government organisation that will be working to assist the provision of sustained medical attention and humanitarian aid for the families of the HIV-infected children.