Are Czechs playing role in saving foreign medics in Libya from death penalty?

Photo: CTK

As this programme was being recorded the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor held in Libya were still waiting to hear whether their death sentences would be commuted. However among the feverish speculation that a compromise has been reached, reports have emerged that four European countries - including the Czech Republic - were playing a leading role in facilitating the deal.

Photo: CTK
The six foreign medics have been in jail since 1999, when they were convicted of deliberately infecting 426 Libyan children at a hospital in Benghazi with HIV-contaminated blood. Fifty of those children have since died. There was outrage in the international community when the six were sentenced to death. The west believes they are innocent of the charges, and that poor sanitary conditions at the hospital were to blame for the infection. The case has proven a thorn in the side of Libya's relations with the west, but now it could be on the verge of a breakthrough.

According to an interview in France's le Figaro newspaper with Seif al Islam, son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the families of the infected children are to receive around 400 million dollars in compensation. Media reports said the compensation was to be financed in the form of debt relief from four countries - Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and the Czech Republic. In return, it seems, Libya will review the convictions and possibly order lighter sentences.

None of the four governments concerned will confirm the information. Bulgaria's government issued an outright denial, saying paying Libya would only confirm the nurses' guilt, which obviously they reject. The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told journalists on Monday that his country had never negotiated with Libya on the possibility of coming to such an arrangement. The Foreign Ministry says it would prefer the EU as a whole to provide humanitarian relief to Libya rather than agreeing to such a deal.

It would appear, however, that some breakthrough has been reached behind the scenes. A spokesman for the Libyan families told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that more than half of them had now received compensation, and the rest would be compensated by the end of the day. When that had happened, he said, Libya's Supreme Judiciary Council would meet to review the sentences - only once the families had given their go ahead. What role, if any, the Czech Republic played in facilitating a deal may never be known.