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Christmas present for the Libyan held doctors and nurses – a retrial

The spirit of Christmas has smiled on the Bulgarian nurses in Libya who were waiting to be executed for looking after children who tested positive for the “AIDS virus”. They are to get a new trial, and their death sentence has been lifted.

Libya lifts ‘HIV medics’ sentence

(BBC) Libya’s supreme court has overturned death sentences on six foreign health workers who were charged with infecting Libyan children with HIV. It has also ordered a retrial of the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor in a lower court.

The six were sentenced to death in May 2004 for infecting 426 children with the HIV virus in the city of Benghazi. They have always maintained they are innocent. Bulgaria, the US and the European Union had urged their release.

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This comes after Bulgaria went along with the blackmail request of Libyan authorities to trade the lives of these innocents for a sum of money large enough to balance the penalty Libya was forced to pay for its useless and appalling killing of hundreds of airline passengers in the Lockerbie downing.

Presumably if the funds get transferred Libya will eventually stop persecuting these unfortunate angels of mercy whose only mistake was to trust the Libyan authorities.

Even the HIV=AIDS crowd argues that it was unhygienic conditions at the hospitals that are the real problem being covered up in this diversion. But without the HIV=AIDS superstition (for that is what it is, according to the current scientific review literature) there would be no belief system to back any accusation at all, of course.

But perhaps one shouldn’t blame the Libyan officials entirely. The original New York Times report from October (below) is attached to remind us how the ignorance and superstition of the Libyan prosecutors merely mirrors the scientific confusion in the medical minds at work in the hospitals of the country, as advised by the WHO and Luc Montagnier.

Perhaps the case will turn out to have a silver lining after all – the arguments presented in the court case, if they are translated and published for the world to read, may expose this confusion and the inconsistency of the HIV?AIDS paradigm to the public gaze more clearly than ever before.

After all, lawyers in court deal in reason and evidence and it seems likely that the questionable nature of the HIV?AIDS paradigm may emerge under the spotlight, and that at least one or two of the representatives of the Western press in attendance may notice.

On the other hand their editors may have no stomach for that line of enquiry, even if it is called to their attention. And the source – Libya – is already tainted by its absurd prosecution of the Bulgarians.

A complete report from UPI is Nurses to be re-tried in Libya:

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Analysis: Nurses to be re-tried in Libya

UPI – Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Date: Tuesday, December 27, 2005 11:27:59 AM EST By ROLAND FLAMINI, UPI Chief International Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) — Later this week, officials from the United States, Britain, Bulgaria and Libya are expected to reach agreement on a compensation package that is the reverse image of a similar settlement from five years ago, even if in very different circumstances. The negotiations in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, are due to resume Dec 28 to agree on financial assistance for the families of 426 Libyan children infected with HIV/AIDS in a hospital in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, seven or eight years ago, the exact date being a key factor in the ensuing court case.

The amount mentioned in the international media with a reasonable degree of reliability is $10 million per family. From all accounts the money will be paid by Bulgaria, with European Union support, because five Bulgarian nurses working in Libya were originally tried and sentenced to death before a firing squad in connection with the mass infection. Britain is negotiating on the EU’s behalf: It holds the rotating EU presidency.

The mirror image is derived the fact that slightly more than a year ago the Libyan government agreed to a $2.7 billion compensation settlement to the American and other families of the 270 victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which crashed on the Scottish village of Lockerbie. The agreement worked out as roughly $10 million per family. Two Libyan officials were indicted on charges of planning the terrorist attack.

This week’s expected deal comes after the Libyan Supreme Court on Sunday overturned the death sentences of the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor and ordered a new trial having found “irregularities” in the old one. Although the lower court trial had been widely criticized by observers as a travesty of justice, and the Bulgarians claimed that some confessions had been obtained under considerable duress, the decision of the country’s highest court had been far from a foregone conclusion, and might even have been something of a surprise, particularly for its speed and clarity. An informed source said the court seemed to have acted independently and was not following “a directive from the tent,” that is from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who likes to spend time in a Bedouin tent in the desert.

U.S. Department of State spokesman Justin Higgins welcomed the verdict overturning the death sentences Sunday and said, “A way should be found to allow the medics to return to Bulgaria and Palestine.” In Sofia, Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov said, “We hope that the swiftness and the effectiveness demonstrated by the Libyan courts…will help solve the case as soon as possible.”

The case unfolded against the background of a series of important developments in Libya’s emergence from its isolation in the international community imposed by the punitive U.N. sanctions following the Lockerbie bombing.

In 1998, 19 Bulgarian nurses and two Palestinian doctors were arrested in connection with an outbreak of the HIV/AIDS virus among children in the Al Fatah hospital in Benghazi. A year later, 13 of the Bulgarians were released, but six nurses — one was later acquitted — and a Palestinian doctor were subsequently charged together with nine Libyans with deliberately infecting the 426 children with HIV-infected blood products as part of an international conspiracy managed by a foreign intelligence service.

At the time, Gadhafi was still refusing to hand over for trial under Scottish law the two officials who were alleged to have planned the Pan Am bombing. But by the time the trial began in July 2003, the situation had changed dramatically. The Lockerbie tribunal had ended with the conviction of one of the two Libyans and the acquittal of the other, and talks had begun on compensation for the families of the Pan Am 103 victims. Equally significant, Gadhafi had made his historic offer to the United States to abandon his nuclear weapons program and to renounce the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.

The international community was able to shift away from sanctions, but the trial was a road block on the way to diplomatic conciliation.

From the start, the case against the medical workers had been highly questionable, and became more so as the lower court trial progressed. Two AIDS experts, Luc Montagnier and Vittorio Colizzi, testified the virus was a rare type prevalent in West Africa. They estimated the outbreak had started in 1997, that is, before the arrival of the Bulgarian medical workers, when an infected child was brought in for treatment of another condition. Poor standards of hygiene in the hospital had led to an infection of the blood product subsequently used on other children. But in May 2004, the six medical workers were found guilty by the Benghazi court and sentenced to death before a firing squad.

The verdict produced a wave of international protest, and a flurry of diplomatic activity by the EU and Washington. Libya was anxious to find a way out of the impasse, but the case had generated much emotion in Libya. The families of the affected children — 50 young AIDS victims have since died — had organized, and were demanding the conviction of the Bulgarian nurses. Another problem was that Benghazi, a traditional rival of Tripoli, resented any attempt by the central government to overturn the verdict. At one point, Bulgarian media reported Libyan and other Arab officials had urged Sofia to demonstrate its support for the Arab world by withdrawing its support of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. The Bulgarians refused to pull out of the U.S.-led coalition, and kept their military contingent in Iraq. “I would not like to think that the Bulgarian position on the Iraq crisis will influence relations between Bulgaria and Libya,” President Purvanov said at the time.

When Libya first proposed compensation to the victims as a way of easing the public opposition, the Bulgarians saw it as blood money and an implied admission the nurses were guilty. Still, discussions went ahead involving the Moammar Gadhafi Foundation, which is run by the leader’s son Seif al-Islam, on the one hand, and Bulgaria, the EU, and the United States on the other. With Sunday’s Supreme Court verdict in effect taking the process back to square one, the question of the nurses’ responsibility has been separated from the tragedy of the children and the issue of compensation, as the Bulgarians had wanted.

There was speculation Tuesday that following the Supreme Court’s severe public criticism of the government’s case, the prosecutors may decide not to insist on a new trial, and the Bulgarians will be quietly released. Yet another possibility is that a new trial will be held outside Libya.

But the Supreme Court’s verdict removes another in the series of leftover problems standing in the way of full resumption of diplomatic relations between Washington and Libya that are in any case wanting only the exchange of ambassadors. It also brings Gadhafi closer to a new relationship with the world.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International.

All rights reserved.

Libyan Court Delays H.I.V. Case Verdict:

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December 23, 2001

Libyan Court Delays H.I.V. Case Verdict

A Libyan court postponed its verdict today in the case of six Bulgarians and a Palestinian, all doctors and nurses, accused of injecting 393 children with H.I.V.-contaminated blood.

It was the second time in four months that the judges had postponed their verdict. They were originally scheduled to hand down a ruling in September.

The chairman of the three-judge panel said the postponement was necessary ”to review the files of evidence further.” The verdict is now scheduled for Feb. 17, he said.

The indictment said the infection was part of a conspiracy by foreign intelligence to undermine Libya’s security and its role in the Arab world and Africa.

One of the defense lawyers for the group criticized the move.

”The adjournment creates additional tension and has a bad effect on the health of the defendants,” the lawyer, Vladimir Sheitanov, told the Bulgarian news agency BTA from the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The defendants have been in custody since early 1999.

The five Bulgarian nurses, a Bulgarian doctor and a Palestinian doctor have said they are not guilty of charges of murder and conspiracy.

Prosecutors charged them with giving blood contaminated with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, to 393 children at Al-Fateh hospital in Benghazi. Twenty-three children reportedly developed AIDS and died.

If convicted, they could be condemned to death.

Nine Libyans are also on trial in the case, charged with negligence.

The long-running trial, which began in February 1999, has drawn international criticism.

Critics charge that Libya may be trying to divert attention from horrendous conditions at state-run hospitals. The defense lawyer, Othman el-Bezanti, told the court that the infections stemmed from poor hygiene at the hospital and the reuse of syringes.

Bulgaria accused Libya of holding a political trial and repeatedly called for an independent team of international experts to study the case and testify. The court refused to allow expert opinion from Switzerland and France.

The human rights group Amnesty International said there were ”serious irregularities” in pretrial proceedings.

Many Bulgarian doctors and engineers work in Libya, where salaries are higher than in Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian foreign minister, Solomon Pasi, was in Tripoli today, but the Bulgarian Embassy denied that he had come to hear the verdict.

Bulgaria said it welcomed the court’s decision to delay the verdict.

”For us, the delay is encouraging as it means that as of today there is no solid evidence that could warrant the most severe sentences,” a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

The delay ”means the court is considering all facts seriously and the door remains open for a favorable outcome,” the spokeswoman said.

Justice Minister Anton Stankov, a former judge, agreed.

”This is a positive sign,” he said. ”From my experience I know that long delays are always favorable for the defendants. We view the court’s decision for a new delay as a sign of its determination to uncover the truth.”

* Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Here is the long New York Times article from October 17, Time Is Short for Bulgarian Nurses Facing Death in Libya:

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NYTimes

FOREIGN DESK

Time Is Short for Bulgarian Nurses Facing Death in Libya

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL; MATTHEW BRUNWASSER CONTRIBUTED REPORTING FOR THIS ARTICLE. ( International Herald Tribune ) 1117 words

Published: October 17, 2005

In 1998, at a time when her country was mired in hyperinflation, Valya Chervenyashka left her rural Bulgarian village and went to work as a nurse in Benghazi, Libya, for $250 a month, to pay for her daughters’ college educations.

Today, Ms. Chervenyashka and four other Bulgarian nurses, as well as a Palestinian doctor whose family moved to Libya in 1967, are under death sentence in a Libyan jail and could face a firing squad. They are accused of intentionally infecting more than 400 hospitalized Libyan children with the AIDS virus, in order, according to the initial indictment, to undermine Libyan state security.

They were also charged with working for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.

”Nurses from little towns in Bulgaria acting as agents of Mossad?” said Antoanetta Ouzounova, 28, one of Ms. Chervenyashka’s two daughters. ”It all sounds funny and absurd until you realize your mother could die for it.” Although the motive of subversion has been dropped, the death sentence stands. The Libyan Supreme Court is to hear the nurses’ final appeal on Nov. 15.

With that date approaching, President Georgi Parvanov of Bulgaria plans to raise the case at a meeting with President Bush in Washington on Monday, Bulgarian officials say. International AIDS specialists, including Dr. Luc Montagnier, who discovered the AIDS virus, have traveled to Libya to study the situation and have testified that the children were infected as a result of poor sanitary practices at the hospital, Al Fateh Children’s Hospital, in Benghazi. The nurses have testified that they were tortured in the months after their arrest in 1999.

In a handwritten 2003 declaration to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, one, Snezhana Dimitrova, described part of the torture. ”They tied my hands behind my back,” she wrote. ”Then they hung me from a door. It feels like they are stretching you from all sides. My torso was twisted and my shoulders were dislocated from their joints from time to time. The pain cannot be described. The translator was shouting, ‘Confess or you will die here.”’

For seven years the nurses’ plight has simmered on the back burner of international politics, especially since Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, renounced terrorism and nuclear weapons in 2003.

Last year, even as Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and Romano Prodi, then president of the European Commission, were protesting the case, the commission invited Colonel Qaddafi to Brussels for lunch, and the United States lifted the trade embargo against Libya.

But with time running out, negotiations to secure the nurses’ release are ”not moving well,” Ivailo Kalfin, the Bulgarian foreign minister, said in a recent interview here.

Solomon Passy, leader of the Committee on Foreign Policy of the Bulgarian National Assembly and a former foreign minister who has visited Libya five times on the case, said Bulgaria needed more international support, calling the nurses ”hostages.”

”The Libyans need to know they won’t get carrots, like they won’t get taken off the terrorist list, until they release the nurses,” he said. Libya remains on the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism. If the nurses were Italian or British or American, some diplomats say, the case would have provoked a major international protest.

Mr. Kalfin, the foreign minister, said with a shrug, ”It is one thing when Britain raises an issue; it is another when Bulgaria raises it.”

Libyan officials have suggested that Bulgaria pay $10 million in compensation for each of the 420 children Libya accuses the nurses of infecting, according to Bulgarian and European Union diplomats, saying the families might then express forgiveness toward the nurses and ask for dismissal of the court case, a procedure permitted under Islamic law. The Libyans drew parallels to compensation payments the Libyan government agreed to make to families of the 270 people killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the work of Libyan agents.

The Bulgarian government has rejected the idea, Mr. Kalfin said, adding that it was absurd to compare the nurses to terrorists, and that Bulgaria would not pay ”blood money since the nurses are not guilty.”

Still, a senior European Union diplomat, speaking of covert activities on condition of anonymity, said there had been extensive ”underground meetings” about a payment. Hoping to broker a deal, the European Union has sent diplomats and medical teams to Libya to study and consult on AIDS. It has flown dozens of children to Europe from Libya for medical treatment and held training sessions for doctors in Libya.

Bulgaria recently agreed to send Libya 20 of the 50 pieces of medical equipment it had requested, and even offered to restructure the $27 million in Libyan debt it holds.

Around the time the doctor and nurses were arrested, a team of World Health Organization doctors was dispatched to study Libya’s rapidly growing AIDS problem. Its internal report, which was provided to a reporter by an official, said the factor ”mainly responsible for the current epidemic” was the accidental spread of the virus in medical procedures. It added that sterile supplies and better equipment were needed.

Three years later, Dr. Montagnier was hired by Colonel Qaddafi’s son to reconstruct what had happened at Al Fateh Children’s Hospital.

”Some of the children were infected before the Bulgarian nurses even arrived, and others after they left,” Dr. Montagnier said in a recent telephone interview. He said most of the children were also infected with various subtypes of hepatitis C, which can be transmitted to children only by injection, clear evidence that ”there were many errors in hygiene in this hospital at the time.”

But at the trial, in 2004, a group of medical specialists from Benghazi disputed the Montagnier report.

Dr. Montagnier said that testimony ”contained many mistakes showing that they didn’t understand much about H.I.V.,” the virus that causes AIDS.

”The hospital,” he said, ”needed a scapegoat.”

Photos: Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were convicted in 2004 of infecting children with the AIDS virus at a hospital in Libya. At left, Ashour al-Sultani contracted the virus at the hospital in 1998 and transmitted it to his mother, Juma al-Sheikhi. (Photo by Yousef Al-Ajely/Associated Press); (Photo by Jehad Nga for The New York Times)

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