Given full pardon by Bulgarian president
CAIRO: Bulgaria is celebrating the return of five of its nurses, and one Palestinian doctor, who had spent eight years in a Libyan jail charged with infecting over 400 children with HIV.
Imprisoned since 1999, a deal was reached between Libya and the European Union (EU) – which Bulgaria joined in January – to allow the accused to serve out the remainder of their sentence in Bulgaria.
Upon their arrival in Sofia airport Tuesday, however, the six received a full pardon from Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.
All six had initially been sentenced to death in Libya after confessing to the charges, though the sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment.
The accused insisted throughout their trial and imprisonment that their confessions were extracted under torture.
Nineteen medics including nine Libyans had originally been detained, though all but the six in question were released in 2004.
French experts have testified that the children, 56 of whom have already died, were infected with HIV before the medics began working at the hospital.
“I know I am free, I know I am on Bulgarian soil, but I still cannot believe it, one nurse, Christiana Valcheva, told reporters, amid emotional scenes at Sofia airport.
Bulgarian National Television celebrated a “Historical and exciting day for Bulgaria .
One broadsheet, ‘Standart’, ran with the headline “There is a god, they are freed.
Human Rights organization Amnesty International also welcomed the news, though the Director of its North Africa Programme, Malcom Smart, added that (Libya) should now proceed to implementing much-needed reforms to the criminal justice system to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanislav attributed the release to his country’s membership in the EU, and praised “the solidarity which the EU showed Bulgaria.
Along with the medics on board the flight from Tripoli to Sofia, were the EU’s Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner – who reportedly signed the deal with Libya – and French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy.
The agreement commits the EU to supporting the infected children for the rest of their lives, and revamping two hospitals and a medical centre in Benghazi, in Eastern Libya. Further assistance will also be provided in the areas of education, archaeology, and transport.
Bulgarian daily ‘SEGA’ (Now), however, called the deal an ‘Absurd ransom’, and reported that among Libya’s demands is the construction of a motorway running from Tunisia to Egypt, and a railway running the length of the country.
A source at the Bulgarian embassy in Cairo told The Daily Star Egypt that the important thing was that the individuals had been released.
“The conditions of the deal are irrelevant [for the time being], he said, “now that they have been returned.
Qatar was involved in the mediation between the EU and Libya, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked the country “warmly for their mediation and their humanitarian intervention.