Libya halts execution of six in HIV case

Foreign medical workers are accused of spreading AIDS to 400 children

The World

December 09, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TRIPOLI, Libya - Libya will not execute five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who were sentenced to death earlier this year for infecting more than 400 children with HIV in 1998, according to the son of the Libyan leader, Col Muammar el Kadafi.

"No one is going to execute anyone," the Libyan leaders' son, Seif al-Islam Kadafi, said yesterday.

This month or next, he said, the country will pass new laws that will limit capital punishment to a small number of crimes. "Capital punishment is going to be finished," he said.

Kadafi, 32, who leads a charitable organization helping to negotiate a resolution to the case, said Libya would like to extradite the nurses to Bulgaria but suggested it might link that to the extradition of a Libyan man serving a life sentence in Scotland for the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. He did not say what might be done with the Palestinian doctor.

Libyan officials said this month that they were willing to "re-examine" the death sentences of the nurses and doctor but that such a move would depend on Bulgaria's paying compensation to the families of the children infected, more than 40 of whom have died. Bulgaria has refused, saying that would acknowledge the medical workers' guilt.

The medical workers were arrested in 1999 and accused of knowingly injecting HIV-tainted blood into more than 400 children at a hospital in the city of Benghazi. International AIDS experts testified that the infections were most likely spread by using syringes more than once and that the infections began before the medical workers arrived at the hospital. Nonetheless, a Libyan court found the six guilty and sentenced them to death by firing squad in May.

Kadafi holds no official position in Libya, but he has acted as a mediator in many international disputes between his country and the West and is believed to speak with the backing of his father.

"I think we have to extradite them at a certain stage, because we have an extradition treaty with Bulgaria," Kadafi said. "But first we have to satisfy the families, compensation and a medical solution long-term for their children.

"At the same time," he said, "we have to address the issue of the Libyan prisoner in Glasgow. We can't expect to extradite someone from here and not expect the same for our citizen."

Western diplomats here say Libya is eager to resolve the case but is reluctant to release the medical workers without a solution that would maintain the integrity of the country's judicial system and satisfy domestic political expectations.

"We are talking about more than 400 families, and that's not a small number in Libyan society," Kadafi said. `'We have to show them that we are getting something and that it's a good thing."

Separately, Kadafi said a Libyan dissident missing since March was under police protection because of threats to his life.

Fathi al-Jahmi had previously served 18 months in jail for his criticism of the Libyan government and his public calls for freedom of speech and political pluralism in the country. He was freed March 12 after an international campaign on his behalf but disappeared again later that month after giving a series of interviews to international media.

"He put himself in trouble because the leader released him and after that he started insulting the leader," Kadafi said, using the title that refers to his father. "People got angry and a huge demonstration went to his home in order to kill him and then the police took him away and evacuated his family from the house."

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