At 3:50 am EDST I received the welcome news, via Declan Butler, that the Tripoli 6 were free and on the tarmac in Sofia, Bulgaria. All are Bulgarian citizens and were released by the Libyan prison authorities as part of an extradition arrangement. Their life sentences were immediately pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov. Our six medical colleague had been accused of deliberately infecting over 400 children in a hospital in Benghazi, Libya and sentenced to death. They have been imprisoned for 8 years, through two trials and numerous appeals. Genetic analysis of the infecting strains indicated the virus had been circulating there prior to the medics’ arrival in 1998, but was not allowed to be presented as evidence (more background in these posts).
The Tripoli 6 case had become a cause celebre for the international scientific and EU communities. Several prominent scientists, among them US Nobel Laureate Rich Roberts, worked tirelessly to obtain the release of the six medical workers. But there were significant forces within Libya opposing the release, principally the grieving and enraged families of the infected children, who have become a significant political force within Libya and particularly in their home city of Benghazi, a stronghold of anti-government feeling. Thus the resolution required balancing and, in effect, compensating various parties and the middle-men that brokered the agreement, which included significant payments to the children’s families, contributions to modernize the hospital in Benghazi and a variety of diplomatic concessions between the EU and Libya:
According to EU officials, the key to the agreement has been a memorandum signed in Tripoli by [EU negotiator] Ms Ferrero-Waldner, which would lead to the full normalisation of EU relations with Libya.
The BBC’s Oana Lungescu says it includes a pledge to open the European market to Libyan farm and fishery produce, technical assistance for the restoration of archaeological monuments, and EU grants for Libyan students. (BBC)
Now they are free for the first time in 8 years. When the full story of this sad case is written we will find there were villains, heroes and many innocent victims. I’ll leave to others the assignment of blame. The victims, the children and the medics and the families of both, are obvious. I don’t know all the heroes, but I would like to make special mention of Nature Senior Correspondent Declan Butler who was instrumental in getting Nature, the world’s greatest science journal, many scientists and, not least, the science blogosphere actively engaged. I am proud of my colleagues here at Science Blogs and elsewhere who weighed in at just the right moment, becoming the spearhead for a huge reaction from the blogosphere in general, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum. Declan was the spark that set it ablaze.
For the moment, we will let Bulgarian President Parvanov have the last word:
“The dramatic case with the sentenced innocent Bulgarian citizens is at its end. We are still sympathetic with the other tragedy – the one of the infected Libyan children and their families.”