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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
One Bulgarian's Libyan ordeal
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

Zdravko Georgiev is the husband of one of the six Bulgarian medics imprisoned in Libya for infecting children with HIV. He too was held in Libya, and was released with his wife and her colleagues. Shortly before the seven of them were flown to Sofia, Dr Georgiev spoke to the BBC News website about his eight-year wait for freedom.

Zdravko Georgiev emerges from his plane back in Sofia on 24 July
Dr Georgiev flashed a victory sign on returning to Bulgaria

Dr Georgiev did not come to Libya to swim in the Mediterranean or read the novels of Dickens and Dumas.

But having survived the horrors of the Libyan prison system, that is how he spent much of the last three years.

He had arrived in 1991 along with his wife, nurse Kristina Valcheva, to practise medicine and earn a living.

Arrested in 1999, he was accused with other Bulgarians of deliberately infecting children at a hospital with HIV.

The charge against him was dropped, but he spent five years in detention before being convicted in 2004 of currency speculation - "another fabrication", he says. His sentence was cancelled out against time already served, and he was released.

Nonetheless, he was denied permission to leave Libya, and so he lived at the Bulgarian embassy in Tripoli, doing what he could for the Bulgarians who were convicted and sentenced to death in what he insists was a gross miscarriage of justice.

The disappeared

Back in 1999, he was working in the Sahara Desert, far away from Benghazi, where his wife and other Bulgarian nurses were working at a kidney hospital.

They said we were agents of the CIA and Mossad, but if I had been an agent, why did I not try to escape back then?
Zdravko Georgiev

"Then I got a call from a friend, who told me that she (his wife) and the others had vanished, and nobody knew where they were," he recalls.

After travelling to Benghazi, he began a frantic search. It was only later that he found out the nurses had been seized, blindfolded and gagged, beaten and taken to the capital, Tripoli.

"Within a week, the police arrested me too," Dr Georgiev says.

"I had been searching for the Bulgarian nurses all over Benghazi, and they understood I was a dangerous man. I was not afraid of them, because I had done nothing wrong in Libya and I just thought there had been some mistake.

"They said we were agents of the CIA and Mossad but if I had been an agent, why did I not try to escape back then?"

Into the cauldron

Speaking of his prison experiences, the doctor says he lived for two years in filth with only salty water to drink, sharing a cell measuring 1.9m (6ft) by 1.7m (5.5ft) by 3m (9.8ft) with up to eight people at a time.

I could not lie down to sleep for two years - I could only sit
Zdravko Georgiev

"Even with three people, it was horrible in there," he says.

"I could not lie down to sleep for two years - I could only sit. You cannot imagine it. In the summer it got so hot, people were passing out."

He never met another European in jail. His fellow prisoners were from all over Africa, most of them murderers or drug-traffickers.

He says he was beaten up by guards, and had four teeth knocked out when investigators attacked him with clubs.

But that was nothing compared to the electric shocks given to the nurses, he says.

"They tortured and treated them like animals - in fact, you would not treat animals like that."

Torture charges were brought against nine policemen and a Libyan doctor, but they were acquitted.

Passing time

Dr Georgiev says the dropping in May 2004 of the HIV charge against him was "stage-managed".

Zdravko Georgiev with his wife Kristina Valcheva in Libya (photo: Dr Georgiev)
Dr Georgiev was able to visit his wife once a week

"The police investigators who beat and tortured us decided they wanted to show how fair Libyan justice was so I was declared innocent and the nurses were declared guilty," he says.

After his release, he was denied an exit visa without ever being given a reason, and moved into the Bulgarian embassy.

Allowed to visit the nurses only once every Thursday, he would spend his time doing shopping for them.

Otherwise, unable to practise medicine, he would divide his time between swimming in the Mediterranean, fishing, reading novels, watching TV and meeting friends.

"Many ordinary people in Tripoli know me and I have no problem with them," he says.

"They didn't believe this stupid case and they were really good to me."

'We were hostages'

Dr Georgiev believes his government waited too long to help the medics, and that the big change only came when Bulgaria gained the clout of the European Union after joining the bloc this year.

The Libyan government kidnapped us because it knew we were a very weak country at that time
Zdravko Georgiev

He speaks of his hurt at how, by his account, Libyan police poisoned the minds of the families of the HIV children against the Bulgarians.

"You know, I worked as a paediatrician for 25 years and I loved my job," he says.

"I never had a problem with ordinary Libyans. We are very good doctors and nurses. Libyans trusted us and liked us because Bulgarian medics had been coming to their country for more than 30 years.

"We came here only for money because the situation in our own country was very bad. It was to make some money - nothing else.

"The Libyan government kidnapped us because it knew we were a very weak country at that time.

"We feel very bad. We have been humiliated. We are innocent people who have been treated very badly for eight years. We have been hostages and that is the truth."

Dr Zdravko Georgiev on Libyan prison conditions

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