Views on BG | February 18, 2002, Monday // 00:00

Six Bulgarian medics accused of infecting nearly 400 children with HIV-contaminated blood in a Libyan hospital have had their case downgraded by a judge.

The one doctor and five nurses had faced trial in a people's court in Libya which is reserved for cases that allegedly threaten state security or involves acts of sabotage.

But presiding judge Ibrahim Abu Shinaf said on Sunday that the case against the group would be sent to the prosecutor's office which would likely mean they now face a criminal court, which carries potentially lighter sentences.

The six Bulgarians have been on trial for two years on charges of murder and conspiracy.

They have pleaded innocent to injecting 393 children with HIV contaminated blood at Al-Fateh hospital in Benghazi, Libya.

"After going through the evidence, the court has found that this case has nothing to do with state security or acts of sabotage and there is no tangible evidence of such crimes," Abu Shinaf added.

"Therefore we decided to transfer the case to the prosecutor's office."

A defence lawyer welcomed the decision.

"The decision is a positive step in the interest of the accused after the most important accusations, sabotage and cooperation with foreign parties, were dropped," attorney Othman el-Bezanti told The Associated Press.

In Sofia, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said the transfer was "encouraging."

"I believe that the new investigation will acquit the Bulgarian medics of the gravest charges brought against them," Parvanov said in a statement issued by his office.

"I would like to thank especially Mr. Seif el-Islam for his role of an impartial monitor of the trial," Parvanov said, referring to the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi who recently promised to watch the case.

The court has postponed a verdict several times since it began in February 1999, saying it needed more time to review the evidence. At the last hearing, the judge said the verdict would be delivered on February 17.

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

Twenty-three of the children infected at the hospital reportedly developed AIDS and died.

Defence lawyer Othman el-Bezanti told the court the infections stemmed from poor hygiene at the hospital and the reuse of syringes.

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


Arab media made a full coverage of the Bulgarian medics case hearing on February 18. In an Arab newspaper a long material for the decision has ben published, Darik Radio reported. In the presence of the defendants’ relatives as well as in the presence of European diplomats, the court’s presiding judge announced that after hearing the defense and reviewing the documents on the case, the People’s Court of Libya has made the conclusion that this is not issue that concerns the national security, the Arab newspaper points out. The comment of the defendants’ Bulgarian lawyer Vladimir Sheytanov that the decision is a positive step is included in the article. Opinions of Bulgaria’s President Parvanov, Parliament Speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov, Foreign Minister Passy, Justice Minister Anton Stankov, Chairman of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court Hristo Danov were quoted. The article says that they consider the decision as a positive sign, a change in the case and as an end of the nightmare, in which the Bulgarian medics live. Quatar’s television Al Jazeera also fully covered the trial developments.

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