Free At Last

The continuing saga of the Bulgarian nurses in Libya is finally at an end. Through a deal brokered by the EU with the help of Qatar, the nurses and their Palestinian doctor colleague have flown to Bulgaria. They were released under a 1984 prisoner exchange agreement

The Bulgarian president and prime minister both met the plane as it landed. The former hostages (let’s call it like it is) were travelling with the wife of the French President and the European Union foreign affairs commissioner. They were immediately officially pardoned by the president, who has even gone one step further and is putting them up at the presidential residence. This includes the doctor, who was granted Bulgarian citizenship last month.

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Libya agreed to release them after the EU agreed to take care of all of Libya’s HIV children in European hospitals for the rest of their lives. The Libyans were also offered normalised relations with the EU. I’d say they managed to pull of a good deal. Find some Christians who have come to your country to help people, arrest them on ludicrous charges, see that they get sentenced to death, and it is amazing how much leverage you can have.

While we rejoice in their freedom, let us not forget that there are other Christians imprisoned, killed, and otherwise persecuted for their faith by Islamic (and other anti-Christian) regimes around the world.

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Ransomed

The Bulgarians nurses I wrote about in May have had their death sentences commuted. They have not been freed, but rather merely given life imprisonment for crimes which research has shown the could not have committed.

They have been convicted of intentionally infecting 438 children in Libya with HIV. Even though the accusation is ludicrous, foreign experts with no vested interest in covering up the problem of AIDS in a Muslim country have determined that the infections started before the Bulgarians even arrived in Libya. They made confessions, but these were aided by the usual Libyan methods of torture.

In the end, it wasn’t just all of the foreign pressure from the civilised world that worked. It was the blood money that was raised. More than £200 million of it to be paid to the families. There were sweeteners for the Libyan government like all of their debt to Bulgaria written off. You know a country is in pretty bad shape when they are in debt to Bulgaria.

Now the pressure should not be let up until they are released.

Invasion, Please

What with all the problems in Iraq, invading other countries is not a popular option these days. So it just goes to show you how bad things are in Zimbabwe when the head of the Catholic Church there is asking for Britain to topple Robert Mugabe from power.

Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Bulawayo is asking for Britain to invade Zimbabwe before millions die of starvation. There has been 95% crop failure in some places. Inflation is currently at 15,000% and it predicted by the American ambassador to reach 1,500,000% by the end of the year. Most people are living less than £1 per week, yet Mugabe just spent £1,000,000 on equipment to monitor telephone calls and emails.

Though the Catholic Church is not usually big on military intervention, Archbishop Ncube said, “People in our mission hospitals are dying of malnutrition. We had the best education in Africa and now our schools are closing. Most people are earning less than their bus fares. There’s no water or power. Is the world just going to let everything collapse in on us?”

He said that people within Zimbabwe cannot rise up against Mugabe because there is too much fear. “I think it is justified for Britain to raid Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe. We should do it ourselves but there’s too much fear. I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing, but the people are not ready. How can you expect people to rise up when even our church services are attended by state intelligence people?”

Church is not a particularly safe place to be in Zimbabwe. The most recent time Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested and beaten to the point of hospitalisation he was attending a prayer meeting.

Blood Money for Nothing

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were tortured into confessing that they infected 426 Libyan children with the HIV virus. They have been sentenced to death.

Why would the Libyans try to put the blame on foreign nurses? HIV principally transmitted through homosexual or non-marital heterosexual acts. This is not the sort of thing a fundamentalist Islamic country like Libyan would want to admit. That being said, the scientific evidence indicated that much of the infection was transmitted throughout the hospital by unsanitary practice.

The death penalty isn’t absolute. There is a way out. The Bulgarian government can pay $13.48 million in blood money for each for each family. That’s only a bit over $7.42 billion. But since the entire Bulgarian government’s annual budget expenditure is $12.16 billion (with revenues of only $13.28 billion) it might be just a little hard to scrape the cash together. The Libyans originally offer to trade them for Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Pan Am 103 (Lockerbie) bomber, but they withdrew this offer.

It’s not surprising that folks in Bulgaria have turned to prayer. Thousands attended a prayer service led by Patriarch Maxim at the Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia. They’ve even brought in the big guns with three miracle working icons of the Theotokos brought in from monasteries in Troyan, Rila and Bachkovo with the cathedral open throughout the night.

I don’t know if there is a traditional patron for nurses, but if you do, please add a comment.

Pray for Ashraf Ahmad Djum’a al-Hadjud, Kristiyana Vulcheva, Nasya Nenova, Valya Chervenyashka, Snezhana Dimitrova and Valentina Siropulo.

Mugabe on Prayer

Whatever the faults of the free world – and they are many, for even the free world is a sinful world – it does have advantages over living under an openly oppressive regime like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The elections in the UK yesterday may have experienced technical problems, but they were open and fair.

The Church is turning more and more on Mugabe and he is not happy. The Roman Catholic bishops published an open letter at Easter insisting on free elections. Mugabe has responded by saying, “Once [the bishops] turn political, we regard them as no longer spiritual and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves.” Yes, it is dangerous to be a political enemy of Mugabe. Very dangerous.

He has already had prayer meetings broken up. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was at a prayer meeting where police left two people dead. He was arrested and assaulted in custody. So were a large number of other people. Mugabe said they deserved the beatings because they had ignored police warnings that the meeting was illegal.

The Cost of Conservatism

The conservative/liberal split in the Anglican church has become deadly.

A British missionary was fatally poisoned after helping to prevent a London vicar from becoming a bishop in Central Africa, The Times has learnt.

It appears that Canon Rodney Hunter was a little too conservative in his views. He had been in Malawi for many years and really considered himself Malawian rather than English. He was a mentor to the Archbishop of the very conservative Province of Central Africa and had taught him in seminary.

He opposed the election of the liberal Rev Nicholas Henderson as Bishop of Lake Malawi, because in contrast to Canon Hunter,

Mr Henderson, Vicar of St Martin’s Acton West and All Saints’ Ealing Common, was elected as Bishop of Lake Malawi last August. He had known the region for 18 years, raising funds for religious, social and humanitarian projects, and was learning the local language, Chichewe. At the time, few in Malawi knew of his record as a leading liberal theologian and that he had been chairman of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union. There was also concern in Africa at reports that he had a male lodger.

As a result, the Primate of Central Africa, the Most Rev Bernard Malango, wrote to Mr Henderson asking him to confirm that he subscribed to the Creeds, the Bible and the Thirty-Nine Articles and that he “fashions his own like and his household according to the doctrine of Christ”.

The diocese’s Court of Confirmation blocked Mr Henderson’s consecration, deeming him “a man of unsound faith”, and instead appointed the retired Bishop of Zambia, the Right Rev Leonard Mwenda.

The Province of Central Africa may be strongly conservative, but that isn’t to say Rev Henderson didn’t have his supporters. Vociferous supporters.

Even though he was living in retirement, appointed assistant priest at All Saints’ Cathedral, he had been physically attacked in the pulpit. Then,

In November Canon Hunter was found dead at his home in Nkhotakota, Malawi, with a strange black substance around his mouth. The day before his death he had complained of severe stomach pains, and postmortem examination has now shown that he was killed by three poisons.

Malawi police have charged his cook with murder and are investigating rumours that the poisoning was organised by supporters of Mr Henderson, who had no knowledge of the alleged plot.

Given the previous violence against him because of his views, I hope the rumours will lead to a trail of evidence.