A visibly distraught woman stormed into a hotel in Tripoli, Libya’s capital city, on Saturday screaming she had been gang raped by Gaddafi’s guards. That woman’s name, as we later learned, is Iman Al-Obeidi.
Al-Obeidi’s desperate cries were crippling as she showed journalists bruises on her face and ankles. Tears streamed down her face as she explained being kidnapped at gunpoint, tied up and subsequently raped by over a dozen men for two days. “You keep saying we are all Libyans but look at what Gaddafi’s militia did to me. Look how Gaddafi’s men violated my honor,” she screamed.
The story illustrates the dire situation in Libya and the swift suppression of dissent. As Al-Obedi told her story, hotel workers and Libyan authorities fought through the crowd to get to her. Hotel waitresses belligerently called her a traitor and tried to physically restrain her from speaking by putting a coat over her head. One waitress even pulled out a knife.
Members of the media tried to keep Gaddafi’s supporters away from the woman and a brawl ensued. Journalists were pushed and shoved, their cameras smashed to erase any trace of the story. Unfortunately for Gaddafi’s supporters, the journalists had already seen the woman’s scars and heard her painful cries.
The Libyan authorities have thus far dubbed Al-Obeidi a mad woman, mentally unstable and a prostitute. In reality, she is a lawyer.
A spokesperson for the Libyan government recently asked foreign reporters not to name the woman as it may be damaging to Al-Obeidi’s family in a conservative Libyan society. He insisted authorities were investigating the matter.
Authorities claim that Al-Obeidi has been released back into the custody of her family. Her family, however, claims they have not seen Al-Obeidi since she was forcefully removed from the hotel. Her family insists she is being held hostage in Gaddafi’s camp.
In fact, the Al-Obeidi family says authorities contacted them to negotiate a solution; Iman Al-Obeidi would be released and receive anything she wants, including money, a house, financial security in exchange for changing her statement. She has allegedly refused the offer.
Now, Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director is demanding Al-Obeidi’s release. The organization is documenting these human rights violations and urges Libyan authorities to launch an independent and impartial investigation into the matter.