Resolution of the Tripoli Six story

I’ve been a bit remiss about reporting an update on the Tripoli Six, six foreign health care workers who were falsely accused of intentionally infecting children at a hospital in Libya with HIV, leading to their being convicted and sentenced to death. The evidence against them was crap, and scientific analyses showed that the strain of HIV in question had been in the hospital before the arrival of the Tripoli Six. After a lot of international wrangling between Bulgaria, the EU, and Libya involving diplomacy and more than a bit of money, the Tripoli Six are free. The arrangement involved the six being extradited to Bulgaria, supposedly to serve out their commuted sentence there. It was widely expected that Bulgaria would free them, but apparently, now that Bulgaria has freed them, Libya is none too pleased:

SOFIA, Bulgaria, July 28 — Calling the action a betrayal, Libya on Saturday denounced a decision by Bulgaria’s president to pardon six medical workers who had been given life sentences in Libya before they were released from the country this week.

Libya’s foreign minister, Abdelrahman Shalgham, said at a news conference in Tripoli that the workers should have been detained upon their arrival in Bulgaria on Tuesday and not freed in a “celebratory and illegal manner,” Agence France-Presse reported.

The medics, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, had been sentenced to death twice in Libya after being convicted of intentionally infecting more than 400 Libyan children with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS — a charge that AIDS experts have dismissed as baseless. They were held for eight and a half years before their sentence was commuted this month to life in prison after the families of the children each received $1 million.

The commutation paved the way for their transfer to Bulgaria because, under the terms of a 1984 agreement between Libya and Bulgaria, citizens of one country convicted of crimes in the other can serve sentences in their own nation. The Palestinian doctor was granted Bulgarian citizenship this year.

It was widely expected that Bulgaria would free the medical workers on their return, but Libyan leaders suggested Saturday that they had expected them to serve their time.

How disingenuous. The whole thing was done with a lot of nudge, nudge, wink, wink–the Libyans would be idiotic not to know what the Bulgarians would do. That was an implicit part of the deal. Either the Libyans are really dumb or they’re just acting for domestic consumption to mollify the parents who had been demanding blood.

At least the healthcare workers are now home in Bulgaria and free. Personally, I like seeing it rubbed in Libya’s face. I’m hoping that, now that the Tripoli Six are free, they will speak out about their ordeal. I want to know what happened to them during their eight year ordeal.

The whole story would make a good movie, now that we know there’s a happy ending.


  1. #1 coturnix
    July 30, 2007

    There is quite a lot of detail about their release here.

  2. #2 Joe
    July 30, 2007

    It’s hard not to see the depressing parallels between the parents who demanded ‘justice’ here and the parents who turned out to protest on behalf of Andrew Wakefield the other week…

  3. #3 Niobe
    July 30, 2007

    I want to know what happened to them during their eight year ordeal.

    I saw an interview with the male doctor and I would almost say, no you don’t.

    They were tortured on a daily basis, chained in a kneeling position wrists tied high behind the back and beaten, even after the decision for the release was made. He then goes to describe how at 3:30 in the morning the guards tell them the ward wants to speak to them and he becomes afraid for his life, but they were actually given their release soon after.

    The whole thing made me cry.

    Here it is in Dutch / Arabic but his eyes tell the story.

  4. #4 Niobe
    July 30, 2007

    Translation of the basic account:

    During the trail, Ashraf and the nurses are put under enormous pressure
    Ashraf: “Anything you’ll here about our part in this is a lie”
    The researchers threaten to molest his family if he doesn’t cop to his part in the AIDS scandal
    Ashraf: They said we’ll take your sister Abir and you will see her bleed. We are going to rape her before your eyes”
    I would give my life to prevent that one of these bastards I’m dealing with without any sense of honor or morality would touch my parents or my sisters. But what could I do? I was willing to confess. Even that I was a mossad or CIA agent, or had a part in Lockerbie. I don’t know why I said those things. I am prepared..

    Interviewer: You wanted to protect your family.
    Ashraf: Yes.

    Voice over: But even after the forced confession, the torture continues.

    Ashraf: They said you are worth nothing. Eat out of a dog’s bowl. They made me eat out of a dogs bowl. Then they hit me to make me throw up. I would have to smear the vomit on my face and eat it.

    Look how I slept. In this position *sits on knees, hands behind back*
    My hands were bound behind my back, tied to my feet. One hand attached to the wall, for an entire year. But as soon as I fell asleep, I would get a kick in my face. That is how I lost 5 molars in total. By the kicking. That’s how they treated me. My treatment was nothing different from the others.
    Valentina was given electrical shocks and could hold in her stool. It was smeared out with a broom.

    His family fled to the Netherlands because life was impossible in Libya.

    Father: As a consequence of the treatment his appearance changed.
    Mother: I screamed: That’s not him!! *breaks down*

    Ashraf: At 3:30 in the morning security service woke me and said: You have a visitor. I became afraid. Not that I didn’t trust prison personnel, but I didn’t trust their bosses.
    If you tell a prisoner at 3:30 in the morning you have a visitor.. I had mixed feelings.

    Voice-over: Earlier this month he was sentenced to death for a second time, but then Libya wants to trade him for money and better relations with the West.

    Ashraf: I had to sign a statement that I was treated well and not molested by anybody.

    Voice-over: Ashraf hopes to join his family soon. 9 years of prison have left mental and physical scars.

    Ashraf: From the stress I got an ulcer. I had some tests. I don’t doubt I can get good care in the netherlands. But I want to remain with my sisters the nurses until we are better physically and mentally.

    Airport Sofia: Reunites with parents.

    Ashraf: From the depth of my heart, I want to thank the Dutch people, the government, and the Queen for helping my family.

  5. #5 kamagurka
    July 31, 2007

    A story with where people have been imprisoned wrongly for eight and a half years (presumably under horrible conditions, maybe even including torture) doesn’t have a happy ending. I’m guessing these people are broken.

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