1970-01-01 00:00:00 UTC
Details of Libya imprisonment told----The nurses and doctor now in
Bulgaria recount their misery and criticize the response to their plight.
The low point for Bulgarian nurse Nasya Nenova came when she reportedly
chewed the veins of her wrists in a desperate attempt to commit suicide.
Dr. Ashraf Alhajouj said he endured the 8 1/2 years in a rough Libyan
prison by embroidering and by scratching slogans into the wall of his
The 1, along with 4 other Bulgarian nurses, and a Bulgarian doctor who
initially had been jailed with them, were freed last week in a swirl of
diplomacy and money. They had been convicted and sentenced to death on
charges that they deliberately infected hundreds of Libyan children with
the virus that causes AIDS.
Since their flight to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, details that have
emerged in interviews with The Times, news conferences and other public
accounts sketch an ordeal that was both horrific and tedious. It included
torture early on but evolved, with conditions improving even as death by
firing squad loomed.
They are now trying to regain their health, which includes overcoming
physical and psychological injuries, and contemplating legal action
against their jailers. They also express resentment over how their cases
were handled by Bulgarian officials and leaders of Arab governments,
which, they say, should have been their most vigorous advocates.
Strangers to friends
"We were treated like animals," Alhajouj, 38, said in an interview with a
small group of journalists, noting that he was initially locked up in a
small cell with dogs. "For [the first] 10 months my family didn't know
even if I am alive or dead. They were looking all over Libya for me."
Alhajouj, an Egyptian-born Palestinian, spoke in English and broken
Bulgarian. He had lived most of his life in Libya, though the nurses, for
the most part, arrived in the late 1990s.
He did not know the women before the arrests; what they had in common was
work at the same squalid Benghazi hospital where the children became
infected. The group came to be friends over the long years of hearings and
incarceration, and he learned to speak a little Bulgarian.
Alhajouj, Nenova and some of the other former prisoners have given
harrowing descriptions of electric shock torture, sleep deprivation,
beatings and the use of anesthesia. This mistreatment drove Nenova to
attempt to kill herself about two months after her arrest by biting the
veins in her wrists, according to an account her mother, Stanka Nenova,
gave the Bulgarian newspaper Standard.
Their captors told them they would die if they did not confess, several
said. And so a false confession from Nasya Nenova was used to build the
case against the group.
"They told me that if it wasn't me" who infected more than 400 children,
"then I must know who did," Nenova said at a news conference. "And
throughout all these difficult years I was asking myself, 'Why was it me
that was chosen to be accused of this evil deed?' "
She still wants to know why.
Alhajouj never contemplated suicide, he said, and kept his spirits up with
what he described as unwavering faith in God and in his innocence.
"I [knew] that one day, everything will be clear enough for everybody in
the whole world that we are really innocent and that we are really
victims," he said.
To pass the time, the young doctor scrawled messages on the walls of his
cell such as: "Hope is the last to die" and, in Arabic, Bulgarian and
English, "I will remain as a sting in your throat for the whole of my
Libyan authorities, before releasing the 6 health workers, reduced their
death sentences to life in prison. When they were finally flown to
Bulgaria, after hundreds of millions of dollars were paid to the Libyans,
the president of Bulgaria pardoned them.
Formally, Libya is protesting the Bulgarian pardon, with Foreign Minister
Abdel Rahman Shalgham saying his government feels "betrayed."
In reality, the regime of Col. Moammar Kadafi is benefiting considerably,
earning kudos in the West and the promise of new trade agreements and
enhanced political status for the erstwhile pariah state.
Kadafi's powerful son Seif Islam dismissed concerns about the pardon and
suggested that any controversy would pass.
The health workers' release "was a good deal for Libya," the younger
Kadafi told Reuters news agency this week. "It's a good deal in our
relations with the West, and with ourselves. It's good to put an end to
this tragedy - a happy ending for all parties."
Little outside contact
While they adjust to freedom, several of the former prisoners have
complained that they felt neglected by their government. Days passed
before a representative of the Bulgarian government saw them in jail, the
nurses said, and he did not see all of them. The others were held back by
their captors because their injuries from torture were visible, the nurses
And meetings with Bulgarian diplomats were always attended by a Libyan
official, making it impossible for them to reveal the horrors they were
More than a year after the arrests, nurse Kristiana Valcheva said, "for
the 1st time I managed to whisper to a representative of the Bulgarian
government what had happened to us in the past months."
Alhajouj is especially bitter that the Arab world did not come to his aid
and that it instead seemed to accept without question Libyan authorities'
version of events. He said he thought it was because the nurses were
Christians and that he, as a Palestinian, had no advocates.
Alhajouj was granted Bulgarian citizenship, in part to make it easier for
the Bulgarian government to secure his release. In the interview, he said
that though he remains proud of his Palestinian heritage, he is more proud
to be Bulgarian, a status that has given him a future and a chance to
recover from his ordeal.
"We are holding ourselves, but we are truly injured inside," he said.
"Whatever happened, it will remain in our souls. We cannot forget this,
but we will overcome, I think."
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Iran hangs 9 for rape, robbery, other crimes
Iran on Wednesday hanged 9 men sentenced to death for rape, armed robbery
and other offences, most of them executed in public in front of a crowd of
onlookers, state media reported.
It followed last month's hanging of at least 16 convicted criminals in the
Islamic state, which according to Amnesty International has one of the
highest rates of executions in the world, and rising.
"Implementation of justice equals improving security," read a banner on
the gallows above 5 hanging bodies in the northeastern city of Mashhad,
state television footage showed.
2 convicted criminals were executed in another location in Mashhad while 2
others were hanged in a southeastern province.
Police have arrested dozens of drug addicts, smugglers, rapists and
murderers during a summer crackdown on crime and "immoral behaviour".
Tehran public prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said late last month that 17 more
criminals would be hanged soon. It was not clear whether they included
those executed on Wednesday.
Murder, rape, adultery, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are
all punishable by death under Iran's Islamic Sharia law, imposed since the
The number of executions doubled to at least 177 last year, according to
Amnesty. Since the beginning of 2007, at least 124 people have been put to
death. Western rights groups have called on Iran to abolish the death
Iran hangs 7 convicts
Iran hanged in public 7 people convicted of rape and kidnapping in its
holy 2nd city of Mashhad on Wednesday, the latest execution of criminals
arrested in a crackdown on thugs.
The hangings were carried out in two separate locations in Iran's second
city in the north-east, on the exact spots where they had committed their
crimes, the state-run IRNA agency reported.
Mashhad's chief prosecutor Gholam Hossein Esmaeeli said five criminals
were hanged in one of the executions and 2 in the other.
Iran has stepped up hangings of such convicts
"The group of 5 were convicted of rape, kidnapping, theft and committing
indecent acts," he said.
"The other 2 were young males aged 24 and had abducted a woman 2 years ago
where, after stealing her belongings, they raped her," he added.
State television showed the executed convicts - blindfolded and dressed in
short-sleeved shirts and tracksuit trousers - hanging limply from the
nooses after they died.
"Implementing Justice Equals Elevating Security," read a banner from
Mashhad's revolutionary and public prosecution office placed above the
It appeared that thousands of people had turned out in Mashhad, the home
of the shrine of the Shi'a Iman Reza, to witness the executions and were
kept back by iron fencing and a cordon of police.
All the convicts had been arrested in a recent sweep on "arazel va obash",
a Persian phrase that translates loosely as "thugs" and is used to
describe rapists, drug-traffickers and criminals guilty of disturbing
Iran has stepped up hangings of such convicts deemed to be a public menace
in a clear message that there is no mercy for such criminals.
One week before, 12 convicts arrested in the same crackdown on thugs were
hanged simultaneously in Tehran's Evin prison. It is highly unusual in
Iran for so many people to be hanged at once.
Tehran chief prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi has said he is looking for
execution verdicts for 17 other criminals.
Meanwhile, 2 convicted bandits were hanged on Wednesday in jail in
Zahedan, the provincial capital of the Sistan Baluchestan province which
borders Afghanistan and Pakistan
"They were convicted of being enemies of God and propagating immorality on
earth by shooting police, which resulted in the martyrdom of 2 police," a
local judiciary spokesperson was quoted as saying by the state
The hangings brought to at least 148 the number of executions carried out
in the Islamic republic so far this year, most of them by hanging and
often in public.
At least 177 people were executed in 2006, according to Amnesty
International, making Iran the most prolific applier of the death penalty
in the world after China.
Capital offences in Iran include murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy,
blasphemy, serious drug trafficking, pederasty, adultery or prostitution,
treason and espionage.
Iranian Kurdish journalists face death penalty
2 Iranian Kurdish journalists who face the death penalty have been
sentenced to hang for harboring links to "hostile" armed groups, their
lawyer said Wednesday.
"The accusations against my clients have no link to their journalistic
activities and the two are accused of collaborating with armed groups
hostile to the system," Saleh Nikhbakht told the ISNA student agency.
Iran's judiciary confirmed Tuesday for the first time that Adnan
Hassanpour and Abdolvahed "Hiva" Botimar were sentenced to death July 16
by a revolutionary court in northeastern Kordestan province as "enemies of
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the 2 journalists wrote for
the magazine Aso (Horizons), before it was banned in August 2005.
Nikhbakht said that Hassanpour had no link to hostile groups and was not
mohareb, a Koranic legal term that is usually translated as "enemy of
Any accusation of "propaganda against the system" should be punished by
prison and not death, he added.
Botimar had never made recourse to weapons and so he should not be
considered an "enemy of God" he added, although he implied that his client
could have been involved in arms sales.
Kurds form a minority believed to be around several million people in
Iran, most of whom live in the northwestern provinces of West Azarbaijan
and Kordestan on the border with Turkey and Iraq.
The border area is hugely sensitive, with Iranian security forces in
recent years fighting banned Kurdish separatist parties, in particular
Pejak, a group linked to Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
(source: Middle East Times)
It's time for a debate on the death penalty
I support Greg Fainberg's remarks about our present state of affairs
(Letters, July 26). "It's so disheartening to see such a beautiful country
with such potential promise and pride let criminal scum, incompetent and
corrupt practices, an inefficient justice system and a drop in the social
value system take down the country."
When he says he's tired of being afraid to walk the streets at night,
scared to drive around for fear of hijacking or murder and tired of
"living in fear", I'm sure we would all comment: "And so say all of us!"
He adds we should tell criminal elements that "actions do have
consequences". I wish we could add: "And when you contemplate killing
someone, especially a baby girl whom you first rape, be sure that you run
the risk of being put to death yourself."
We desperately need a national debate on the death penalty.
On AM Live this week, I suggested they have a talk-in on this. Couldn't we
learn from Botswana - which has the death penalty and is often rated as
Africa's best-run country?
I thought Allister Sparks' piece (Opinion and Analysis, July 26) on
Zimbabwe was excellent.
The madness of Uncle Bob's Idi Aminesque policies has become legendary.
Ivor Davis ---- Sandton
(source: Letter to the Editor, The Star)