By Nigel Ash
Tripoli, 3 April 2013:
A Dutch court has ordered Libya to pay a Palestinian doctor €1 million in damages for . . .[restrict]his eight years of imprisonment after being falsely accused by the Qaddafi regime of infecting 400 Libyans with the HIV virus.
The doctor, Ashraf el-Hagoug had brought the case in the Netherlands where he now lives. If Libya does not pay promptly the amount awarded to Hagoug by the civil court in the Hague, his lawyers say that they will raise the matter with the Dutch foreign ministry or failing that, the EU.
In 1998, Hagoug, then a medical intern and five Bulgarian nurses were convicted of deliberately infecting the children at the El-Fatih Children’s Hospital in Benghazi, where they worked, allegedly in an attempt to start an HIV epidemic. Originally 17 other foreign medical staff and 11 Libyans were arrested but all were later released.
The court heard confessions from the remaining six, which they later each claimed had been extracted under torture and as a result of threats made against their families. All were sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment. In 2007 as a result of considerable pressure from Brussels, the group was deported to Bulgaria on condition that they serve the rest of their jail terms in that country. Flown out of Libya in a French aeroplane, there was considerable anger in Tripoli that the Bulgarian government promptly pardoned all six and released them.
Though privately senior Libyan health experts have admitted that the idea of a conspiracy to start an HIV epidemic seems far fetched, they point out that the outbreak was an exceptional event. Outside reports concluded that the spread of the virus had come about through poor hygiene and procedures, such as the reuse of syringes.
Hagoug and his team have condemned the Libya government for blaming the events on the old regime and accused Tripoli of “trying to evade its responsibilities”.
Within the next week, Hagoug’s lawyers are also expecting a decision on a second case against Libya that he has brought before the UN Human Rights Commission. “Thus” said his lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, ” we won’t just have the Dutch verdict but also an international decision on this question” she told Radio Netherlands Worldwide last night, Tuesday. [/restrict]