TRIPOLI (AFP) – Libya’s leaders are to hold a news conference on Saturday after sharply criticising a decision by Bulgaria’s president to pardon six medics from life jail terms in an AIDS case.
Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi and Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham are to explain the circumstances surrounding the release of the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor with Bulgarian nationality.
“They will give the press all the details of this affair,” an official source said ahead of the press conference, which was due to begin at 11:00 am (0900 GMT).
Held in Libya since 1999, the six medics were sentenced to death after being found guilty of deliberately infecting 438 Libyan children with the AIDS-causing HIV virus. Fifty-six of the children later died.
Libyan authorities allowed them to return on Tuesday to Bulgaria, where they had been due to serve life prison terms but they were immediately pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov.
The move angered Tripoli, which summoned a top Bulgarian diplomat in the Libyan capital on Wednesday in protest, saying it was not in compliance with an extradition treaty between the two countries.
Sofia brushed aside the protests the following day, asserting that “there is absolutely no obstacle whatsoever to the pardoning of the Bulgarian medics.”
The medics were detained in 1999 and made to confess to deliberately infecting the children with the HIV virus at a hospital in Libya’s second city of Benghazi where they worked.
The six were sentenced to death in 2004 on the basis of confessions by the doctor and two of the nurses who later retracted their statements, saying they had been extracted under torture.
The death sentences against the six were commuted to life in prison before the medics were extradited to Bulgaria on Tuesday following an agreement with the European Union for their release.
As part of the deal, the EU normalised its relations with Libya and pledged partnerships in the fields of health, education, border control and the upkeep of the country’s many archaeological sites.
Diplomats said Tripoli’s insistence on full relations with the EU as the price for releasing the six showed the regime of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi was determined to break the country’s international isolation.
This was in addition to a compensation deal that had been hammered out giving the families of each of the children infected with the HIV virus about one million dollars.
Nurses Snezhana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valya Cherveniashka, Valentina Siropulo and Kristiana Valcheva and doctor Ashraf Juma Hajuj, who was recently granted Bulgarian citizenship, have always pleaded their innocence.
Since their release, the medics have spoken out about their eight-year ordeal.
“All of us were treated like animals… we were tortured for a long time, with electricity, beatings, deprivation of sleep” and drugs, the Palestinian-born Hajuj said this week.