The Supreme Court of Libya repeatedly sentenced six foreign medics from children’s hospital al-Fatih in the town of Benghazi to death penalty yesterday. The death list includes five Bulgarian nurses – Kristiana Vulcheva (47), Nasya Nenova (40), Valentina Siropulo (47), Valya Chervenyashka (51), Snezhana Dimitrova (54) – and a Palestinian doctor Ashraf al-Hajaj (40). All the medics were convicted of infecting 426 children with HIV in 1999.
Fifty-six children have already died, others receive treatment at specialized hospitals in Europe. Prosecutors say that one of the nurses, Christiana Vulcheva, organized a criminal group to traffic human blood. Police officers found several plastic bags of blood in Vulcheva’s house in Benghazi. Investigators believe that the medics were substituting the sterile donor blood with untested blood which they had previously obtained from local children for very cheap prices. Vulcheva, prosecutors say, subsequently resold high-quality blood and earned very good profit from it.
Leading medical specialists from other countries of the world support the convicts saying that the HIV epidemics in Libya's Benghazi is based on poor sanitary conditions in the country.
The first trial on the case took place in 2004. Libyan judges acquitted Bulgarian doctor Zdravko Georgiev, Vulcheva’s husband, and sentenced all other medics to execution. However, the Supreme Court of Libya remitted the case for further inquiry on December 24, 2005. The condemned said that they had been tortured during interrogations. An additional investigation revealed nine policemen abused the detainees indeed.
Lawyer Otman al-Bizanti intends to appeal the latest death sentence brought down against the medics. Local authorities can interfere in the controversial case too: the Supreme National Council of Libya has a right to pardon the sentenced nurses.
When the judge finished reading the sentence, the defendants were weeping, whereas the relatives of the children who died of HIV infection rejoiced and considered the execution a proper punishment. The families of the HIV-positive children ask for a compensation of ten million dollars for each of the suffered child.
The European Union said it was "shocked" by the verdict. Spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said the EU had not yet decided to take steps against Libya while the ruling is appealed, but he "did not rule anything out." Bulgaria will join the EU on Jan. 1. René van der Linden, Chair of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, demanded a release of the medics. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin in Washington, said the United States was "very disappointed with the outcome" and urged that the medical workers be freed and "allowed to go home at the earliest possible date."
Spokespeople for Bulgaria’s embassy in Moscow told the Vremya Novostei newspaper that Bulgaria could never agree with the court ruling that disregards obvious facts and denies any connection between the work of Bulgarian medics and the AIDS epidemic in Libya.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov