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The Tripoli Six revisited

Last fall, I and quite a few other bloggers wrote about the Tripoli Six. These are six foreign medical workers arrested for allegedly intentionally infecting over 400 children with HIV in a Libyan hospital and, thanks to the ignorant hysteria whipped up against them and the need of the Libyan government to find scapegoats for unhygienic conditions in the hospital, sentenced to death by firing squad, despite allegations that they were tortured while in a Libyan prison to extract “confessions.”

Now, five months after their being sentenced to death, the international dance by which Bulgaria and Palestine are trying to prevent their citizens from being executed and Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi is trying to find a face-saving way out of this despite the parents who, despite the obvious kangaroo court and scientific analyses strongly indicating that the strain of HIV that infected the children were already prevalent in the hospital before the workers ever arrived and thus supporting the innocence of the Tripoli Six, want their blood, it appears that there may be movement towards a deal:

TRIPOLI – A Libyan organisation headed by the son of leader Moamer Kadhafi said on Sunday the saga of AIDS-affected children and six foreign medics condemned to death for allegedly deliberately injecting them with tainted blood, may soon be resolved.

‘Indications of an impending solution to this crisis have appeared after negotiations in Brussels on May 10 between representatives of the families of Libyan children stricken with AIDS and the European Union,’ said a statement from the Kadhafi Foundation headed by Saif Al Islam.

‘Representatives of the families have welcomed with satisfaction the results of these negotiations, and rays of hope for a rapid resolution of this crisis have appeared,’ foundation official Saleh Abdessalam said in the statement.

He said the Kafhafi Foundation ‘is trying to bring together the points of view of the Libyan families’ representatives and those of the international community.’

Libyan sources told AFP recently that the discreet negotiations could enable the six condemned medics to avoid the death penalty.

The five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor have been in prison for more than eight years and were condemned to death in May 2004 after being convicted of infecting 438 children with tainted blood at a Benghazi hospital, 56 of whom have since died.

The sentence against the nurses — Kristiana Valcheva, Nassia Nenova, Valia Cherveniachka, Valentina Siropoulo and Snejana Dimitrova — and Doctor Ashraf Ahmad Juma was upheld last December.

They are now awaiting a final verdict on their appeal against the death penalty. The hearing was expected early in May but has been delayed to a date yet to be determined, which sources close to the case say may mean a solution is in sight.

Last week, the families of the infected children said they would meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair next week during a visit by him to Libya as part of an African farewell tour before he leaves office on June 27.

Of course, much of this has always been about money. Libya has been demanding a high ransom in order to free the six, in essence 10 million euros for each infected child’s family based on Islamic law, in which victims’ relatives can withdraw death sentences in return for reparations. Naturally, Bulgaria has refused, because it would be seen as an admission of guilt. One face-saving compromise proposed is an international fund to help clean up the hospital and provide medical treatment to the children, and this idea appears to be still in play:

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin said this month the European Union had so far contributed between two million and 2.5 million euros (2.7 million to 3.3 million dollars) to an international fund set up in 2005.

He said the money was to help the treatment of children afflicted with AIDS and to train Libyan doctors. ‘This is not money given as compensation,’ he said.

Bulgaria has insisted that the detained nurses are innocent and that compensation is not justified. Foreign health experts suggested the AIDS epidemic in Libya’s second city of Benghazi had been sparked by poor hygiene.

Moreover, as part of the game, Libya charged the six with slandering the police because they complained about being tortured:

A Libyan court is also due to give its verdict on Sunday in a separate case against the medics who are accused of slandering the police by claiming they had been tortured while in custody.

The accused insist that their confessions in the trial were forced from them under torture, including beatings, electric shocks and being threatened with dogs.

Fortunately, the slander charges were dismissed yesterday:

“The court dismisses the accusations,” Judge Salem Hamrouni said of the slander charges in a hearing on Sunday that lasted 10 minutes, Reuters reported.

A spokesman for the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, Dimitar Tsanchev, expressed his satisfaction with the result.

“This will allow an overall solution to be found for this painful case, which has lasted more than eight years,” Mr. Tsanchev said. “We are very satisfied with the activity in recent weeks on behalf of the parties involved, in which the European Commission has played a leading role.”

The verdict comes as the Libyan Supreme Court is considering the final appeal of the death sentences and as the families of the children are negotiating a settlement with the European Commission that may allow the six to be pardoned.

It would appear that finally, after their long years of imprisonment, there is some hopeful movement towards a settlement that would free the Tripoli Six. Certainly, the Libyan government realizes that executing the health care workers would not be in its national interest. However, never underestimate the power of human stupidity in the form of political pressure from Libyans who’ve been convinced by the government that the six must have infected their children with AIDS. Although I’m a little more hopeful than I was in December, I still fear that it is not yet outside the realm of possibility that the unjust and barbarous sentence against the Tripoli Six might be carried out.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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