Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Libya clears medics of defamation, says their fate up to EU

AFP , TRIPOLI

A Libyan court yesterday acquitted five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor of defamation, one day after they were reprieved from a death sentence.

They were charged with defamation last month by a senior police officer after being previously cleared of similar accusations by other policemen.

The six had been convicted of deliberately injecting 438 children in a Benghazi hospital with HIV-tainted blood, but they said their "confessions" were forced from them under torture, including beatings, electric shocks and being threatened with dogs.

If found guilty in the new trial, they could have faced sentences of up to three years in jail.

Meanwhile, Libya said yesterday that the ball was in Europe's court over the fate of the six, who are waiting to return home after eight years behind bars.

Libya's highest judicial body on Tuesday commuted the medics' death sentences to life in prison after a multi-million dollar compensation deal was hammered out with victims' families.

The decision, which overturned a Supreme Court ruling last week, came shortly after the children's families dropped their call for the death penalty.

But Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahaman Shalgham said the case was "not closed" and that Tripoli was still awaiting guarantees regarding the treatment of the infected children.

"The ball is in the court of Bulgaria and the European Union," he said.

The six, who have been behind bars since 1999, had been on death row since 2004.

Nurses Snezhana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valya Cherveniashka, Valentina Siropulo and Kristiana Valcheva and doctor Ashraf Juma Hajuj could now serve out their sentences in Bulgaria, as the two countries have an extradition treaty and Hajuj was recently granted Bulgarian citizenship.

Shalgham told journalists that talks will take place shortly on how existing EU commitments will be met, without providing any further details.

"The question of time is important, but it must be addressed by all parties and not just Libya," Shalgham said.

Bulgaria said it had begun steps to secure the transfer, and that the relevant documents would be sent to Tripoli yesterday.

"The procedure around the transfer ... is already under way. I will request that the medical workers be allowed to serve out their sentences at home," chief Bulgarian prosecutor Boris Velchev said.

Speculation was rife in local media that if the six are transferred to Bulgaria, President Georgy Parvanov will pardon them immediately.

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