Al-Obeidi struggles to speak

A camera is smashed, a fist connects with a reporter’s shoulder, men dressed as hotel staff are brandishing knives, and a bag is thrown over a woman’s head as she is pulled outside.

On March 26, Libyan woman Iman al-Obeidi burst into the Rixos hotel — located in Libya’s capital of Tripoli — during breakfast to tell foreign journalists how she was tied, beaten, and raped by 15 male Gaddafi troops who detained her at a checkpoint.

“In this particular case, it is the fact that Iman was specifically accusing Gaddafi’s troops of rape that was the problem, not just that she was speaking out about being raped,” said Assistant Professor of English Diya Abdo in an email interview.

As she sat at a table, sipping a glass of water and trying to relate her tale despite her obvious distress, journalists attempted to shield her from security officials who were attempting to drag her away.

“It was like a rugby pileup,” said CNN photojournalist Khalil Abdallah, one of the journalists who attempted to protect al-Obeidi and themselves from “Minders,” government workers who monitor foreign journalists.

According to National Public Radio, Charles Clover of the Financial Times was forced to leave after trying to block al-Obeidi from security forces. He said government officials had previously told him to leave because they claimed his reports were inaccurate.

Though reporters had little time to question al-Obeidi before government officials intervened, she related that, during the two days she was detained, the men also urinated and defecated on her, according to The New York Times.

“They swore at me and they filmed me,” said al-Obeidi to Michael Georgy of Reuters. “I was alone. There was whiskey. I was tied up. They peed on me.”

Journalists have not been able to independently verify al-Obeidi’s story, but circulating clips show her injuries; her face was bruised, her ankles and wrists were bloody — indicating bindings — and she lifted her dress to show a bloody thigh.

“The Libyan authorities have a long record of silencing those who dare speak out against human rights violations,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart, according to CBS News.”It is all the more worrying that they did not hesitate to do this, using heavy-handed methods, despite the presence of the international media.”

Gaddafi supporters soon overcame the journalists and al-Obeidi was taken outside and questioned, then driven away in a white car. Minders claimed she was drunk or crazy and they were taking her to a hospital.

“They say they are taking me to hospital but they are taking me to jail,” said al-Obeidi as she struggled against security officials.

Initially, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim agreed that al-Obeidi was drunk or mentally unstable, according to NPR. He later contradicted these claims, saying her claims were being investigated, but as a criminal case rather than political.

Ibrahim told Channel 4 News that she is facing charges for slander from the men she accused of raping her.

“Now she is not just the accuser, she is the accused,” said Ibrahim. “At this hour, I don’t know whether she is with her family or she is being questioned again.”

Libyan government officials have said al-Obeidi has been released and is staying with a sister in Tripoli.

However, al-Obeidi’s parents said this was untrue on an Al Jazeera Television satellite broadcast, saying she was currently being held at Gaddafi’s compound. She also reported an unidentified caller — supposedly from the Gaddafi camp — who offered safety, freedom, or material possessions if her daughter would change her rape claims.

Al-Obeidi’s mother said she was not ashamed of her daughter for telling the story of her rape and abuse to the journalists, despite the societal stigma towards women who are raped.

“Speaking out specifically about rape is uncommon (for Muslim women), especially because sexual activity outside of marriage is forbidden and compromises both the woman’s and her family’s honor and reputation in the community,” said Abdo.

Al-Obeidi’s claims could represent the suppression of Gaddafi’s regime, and her speaking out may be the call of a new revolution.

“(al-Obeidi) broke the barrier that no other man could break,” said her mother to Al Jazeera.

 

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