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Thursday 24th May 2018

Libya lifts medics' death sentences

17th July 2007

Libya has commuted the death sentences it passed on six medics accused of infecting children with the HIV virus, paving the way for their eventual release.


The ruling by the country's High Judicial Council changed the sentences handed down to five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to life imprisonment as part of a deal in which US$1 million in the equivalent of blood money is being paid to the 460 families involved in the case.

The "Tripoli Six" were sentenced to death last year after being found guilty of intentionally infecting children at a hospital in the port city of Benghazi.

The medics say they are innocent, and that the confessions used in court against them were extracted under torture.

Foreign HIV experts testified that the HIV infections started before any of the accused arrived at the hospital, and were more likely to be the result of poor hygiene.

Bulgaria, the United States and the European Union have all called on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to free the six.

Under a 1984 prisoner exchange agreement, the Bulgarians are likely to be transferred to serve their sentences in their own country, and officials there have said they could be pardoned by their president, Georgi Parvanov.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin said officials would start working on the prisoner transfer Wednesday.

The deal comes after years of campaigning on the part of supporters of the Tripoli six.

Bulgaria, the EU and the United States say Libya has used the medics as scapegoats to deflect criticism of its dilapidated health care sector.

In the United States, where President George W. Bush is planning to send the first U.S. ambassador to Libya in nearly 35 years, a senior official said the ruling was "a positive step forward", but not an end to the ordeal.

Money for the settlement came from the EU, the US, Bulgaria and Libya via the Benghazi International Fund. Almost all the families in the city have felt the impact of the epidemic.

Senior State Department official David Welch said the US was 'encouraged' by the announcement that the death sentences had been commuted, but that the case was not over yet.

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