World and Nation

Raped Libyan woman gets support through TV network

TRIPOLI, Libya — Eman al-Obeidy says the government of Moammar Gadhafi victimized her twice. First members of his militia kidnapped and repeatedly raped her. Then his state television network attacked her as a thief and a prostitute.

But unlike most rape victims here, al-Obeidy, a law student, took her case to the international news media, forcing the Gadhafi security forces to drag her out of a hotel full of journalists as she screamed to tell her story. Thanks to the publicity, she said in her first interviews since then, she may have gotten off easy.

Others in her situation, human rights advocates say, are typically confined for decades or more in so-called rehabilitation facilities, subjected to unscientific virginity tests, deprived of any entertainment or education except lessons in Islam, and subjected to solitary confinement or handcuffs for any sign of resistance to authority.

Al-Obeidy, who showed severe bruising on her face and thigh when she burst into the hotel, said that after she was dragged out she was held for three days in solitary confinement, without medical or psychological help, and repeatedly interrogated by various security officials. But her captors were preoccupied mainly with the publicity, she said in an interview with a Libyan opposition satellite channel.

“During my entire arrest period, I was being asked one thing: To come out on the Libyan state channel and say that those who kidnapped me were not from Gadhafi’s security forces, rather they were from the revolutionaries and armed gangs,” al-Obeidy said. “That was their only request, and I kept refusing.”

Since her release, al-Obeidy said, she has been subjected to a kind of house arrest in the capital. She said she had been hounded by armed men, dragged away again from meeting with journalists before she could even enter the hotel, and blocked from leaving the country or returning to her family in the rebel-held east.

But in a culture where rape can carry a severe stigma, al-Obeidy has become an unlikely heroine for her stubborn defiance of the Gadhafi government’s capricious police state. “Pure, courageous and lionhearted,” declared the opposition website Libya February 17, named for the start of the revolt. “May God give her patience.”

The Gadhafi government has spun through a series of contradictory statements about al-Obeidy since she was forced from the hotel. The government spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, first suggested she was drunk and possibly insane, later that she was a stable person bringing credible criminal charges, and lastly that she was a prostitute and a thief who had a long history with “those boys.” He later said that her rape charges were dropped because she refused a medical exam and that the men had brought defamation charges against her.

Ibrahim repeatedly promised that she would have another chance to speak to the press, even selecting a small pool of female reporters, but then late on Saturday night told Hadeel al-Shalchy of The Associated Press that al-Obeidy had declined.