'Gaddafi's police savaged my son to force a confession'

Libya's barbaric 10-month abuse of Palestinian doctor sentenced with five nurses to be shot for 'causing Aids epidemic'
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The Independent Online

A Palestinian doctor in Libya who was sentenced this week to die by firing squad for deliberately infecting hundreds of babies with Aids was so badly tortured by Libyan police that his father could no longer recognise him, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

A Palestinian doctor in Libya who was sentenced this week to die by firing squad for deliberately infecting hundreds of babies with Aids was so badly tortured by Libyan police that his father could no longer recognise him, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

Dr Ashraf Hasan, 34, and five Bulgarian nurses working at the hospital in Benghazi, Libya, where the epidemic occurred, were arrested by Libyan police in 1999. Colonel Gaddafi, Libya's dictator for the past 35 years, claimed later that they had infected the children on orders from the CIA or Mossad.

Libyan public opinion has been so whipped up against the foreign health workers that Dr Hasan's parents do not dare to visit him in prison in Benghazi for fear of being lynched. When the sentences were announced in court on Thursday, relatives of some of the infected children danced and whooped in the street.

But yesterday, speaking to the press for the first time, Dr Hasan's father, Ahmad Hasan, told the IoS that the accused were innocent victims of a clumsy plot by the Libyan authorities to cover up squalid conditions of hygiene at the state-run hospital.

And to force Dr Hasan to make a confession, he said, police subjected him to unspeakable torture over a period of 10 months.

"Ashraf was arrested on 29 January 1999," said Mr Hasan, a Palestinian who moved to Libya with his family in 1967 and who with his wife taught in Libyan schools for more than 30 years. "Until 30 November of that year we had no information about what had happened to him. I went from one police station to the next trying to find out. Then in November I learnt that he was being held with the Bulgarian nurses at a police station in Tripoli, the capital.

"I was allowed to meet him there for 10 minutes. But he had been so badly tortured that I didn't recognise him. I thought they had brought in the wrong person."

Later Ashraf was able to tell his father what had been done to him - details confirmed by a hospital report prepared after Dr Ashraf collapsed in court in April 2001 and was sent to a prison hospital.

To try and force Dr Hasan to admit to being a Mossad agent, he was strapped to a metal bed frame with electric wires attached to his fingers, toes, nipples and genitals, and given electric shocks for hours. He was beaten on the head and groin with electric batons, sodomised with a broom handle until he bled, and repeatedly knocked unconscious with drugs. He was taken outside and dragged around a field by wire attached to his genitals. He was hung upside down until he blacked out, and suspended by his hands for long periods until his shoulder was dislocated. Cigarettes were repeatedly stubbed out on his skin, and he still bears the burn marks. He was punched in the face with such violence that he lost three front teeth.

Several of the nurses who were given the same sentence as Dr Ashraf on Thursday have revealed details of how they, too, were tortured and, in the case of two of them, raped during their incarceration.

No evidence was offered by the prosecution to support the case against the medical workers. The defence called eminent Aids experts, including Dr Luc Montagnier, the man who first identified the HIV virus, who told the court that the epidemic was probably caused by poor hygiene in the hospital: needles, for example, were not sterilised but merely washed under a tap. He also pointed out that the epidemic started before the foreigners arrived, and continued after they were arrested.

The defendants will appeal the court's decision, which, coming so soon after Tony Blair's visit to Libya and Colonel Gaddafi's rehabilitation in Brussels, was greeted with consternation in Europe. The European Commission said it was "deeply disappointed". In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday: "We are appalled by the harshness of these sentences and are raising urgently our concerns with the Libyans at a senior level."

But Colonel Gaddafi has frequently demonstrated a disregard bordering on contempt for foreign opinion - an attitude repeatedly rewarded by international organisations.

Until now Ahmed Hasan has said nothing about his son's case, fearing to prejudice the result. But now he feels he has nothing to lose. "This is how Libya pays me and my wife for teaching in their schools for 33 years," he said yesterday. "My son and my family have been completely destroyed by this case. Who is responsible? The Libyan people, or Colonel Gaddafi himself? Who is the criminal?"

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