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Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Urgent Interventions

Follow-up of case LBY 280901 - Libyan court sentences to death the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor

Case LBY 280901.2
Follow-up of case LBY 280901
Death Penalty / Fair Trial

Geneva, 20 December 2006

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Libya.

New information

OMCT condemns the decision of a Libyan court to sentence to death the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor after founding them guilty of having deliberately infected about 400 children with HIV in the Al-Fateh Pediatric Hospital in Benghazi.

OMCT stresses that it is strongly opposed to the death penalty as an extreme form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a violation of the right to life, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.

Moreover, OMCT wishes to recall that Article 15 of the Convention against Torture states: "Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made." Indeed, the defendants have repeatedly testified that their “confessions” were extracted under torture in pre-trial detention.

OMCT calls for their immediate release in the absence of valid legal charges or, if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial, independent and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times.

Brief reminder of the situation

On 9 February 1999, over seventy health professionals from Bulgaria (23 persons), Egypt, Hungary, the Philippines and Poland were arrested in Benghazi, Libya, following an investigation into an HIV virus epidemic in the Al-Fateh Pediatric Hospital in Benghazi, in which 393 children were reportedly infected. At least 23 of these children have reportedly died since then. All of the persons that were arrested were released the next day, notably, it is thought, due to the active reaction and operations of their embassy representatives, except the 23 Bulgarian detainees. All but five of these were released one week later. The five persons who remained in custody were all female nurses, including: Christiana Vulcheva, Nassya Nenova, Valenitina Siropulo, Valya Chervenyashka, Snejana Dimitrova. Another Bulgarian national, Dr. Zdavko Georgiev, Christina Vulcheva’s husband, was arrested on 9 February 1999, when he went to the police station where his wife was being detained, and has been detained and accused along with the other five persons, even though he did not work at the same hospital.

On 7 February 2000 a Tripoli prosecutor signed a 1,600-page indictment against the six Bulgarians, nine Libyans and one Palestinian, charging them with undermining and attacking the security of the Libyan State by intentionally spreading the HIV virus through contaminated blood. Since their arrest on 9 February 1999 the accused have remained in custody. At first they were detained for about 10 months without having access to their families. They were allowed access to a defence lawyer only after trail proceedings had begun. In mid-May 2000 the Libyan defence lawyer for the Bulgarian defendants, Osman Bizanti, who was hired by the Bulgarian Embassy, told the media that he had only met his clients on two occasions.

All of the defendants have complained that during the initial stage of detention they have been subjected to torture and inhuman treatment. The forms of torture to which they have been subjected typically include: electrocution, beating with electrical wire, being kept naked and crucified for lengthy periods of time, being beaten on the soles of the feet, being drugged, the use of fire and ice-cold showers, being held in over-crowded cells, being blinded by bright lights and being intimidated and bitten by police dogs (see OMCT urgent appeal LBY 280901).

They were first sentenced to death by firing squad by a Libyan court in May 2004. The death sentences were overturned on 25 December 2005 by the Supreme Court, which ordered the health professionals to be retried. The retrial began on 11 May 2006.

Action requested

Please write to the authorities in Libya urging them to:

  1. order the persons in question’s immediate release in the absence of valid legal charges or, if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial, independent and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times;
  2. order a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances of these arrests and alleged ill-treatment and torture during the prisoners detention, in order to identify those responsible, bring them to trial and apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law;
  3. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.


  • Colonel Mu'ammar al-Kaddafi, Leader of the Revolution, Office of the Leader of the Revolution, Tripoli, Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Fax : + 218 21 333 01 85
  • Her Excellency Ambassador Mrs. Najat Al-Hajjaji, Permanent Mission of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to the United Nations Office at Geneva and International Organizations in Switzerland, Rue de Richemond 25, 1202 Geneva, Tel: +41 22 959 89 00, Fax: +41 22 959 89 10, Email:
  • His Excellency Ambassador Mr. Elhouderi, The Embassy of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in Brussels , 28 av. Victoria, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Tel: +32 2 649 37 37, Fax: +32 2 640 90 76, Email: Libyan bureau

Please also write to the Diplomatic Representatives of Libya in your country.

Geneva, 20 December 2006

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

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