Stirring stories have been coming out of the non-stop media coverage of Libya for weeks, but perhaps the most shocking of Saturday’s batch was that of Eman al-Obeidy. Five men were arrested Sunday in connection with the incident, which is surrounded with government officials smearing the woman’s name, and reporters wondering whether they are being told the whole truth.
Al-Obeidy burst into a hotel full of foreign reporters in Tripoli Saturday and struggled to tell journalists details of her two-day gang-rape and torture at the hands of 15 men, while hotel staff yelled at her that she was a traitor. She showed reporters cuts and bruises on her face and legs, and wounds from binding around her ankles and wrists, and resisted removal from the hotel for nearly an hour while insisting that the men who raped her were militia men loyal to Gaddafi.
In the scuffle to remove her, hotel employees grabbed table knives and threatened her, and a plainclothes police officer pulled out a revolver. One reporter’s recording device was confiscated after he recorded al-Obeidy’s story with it.
Eventually, she was removed from the hotel by security and put in an unmarked car, and journalists were told that she was drunk and mentally unstable. The Washington Post reached al-Obeidy’s mother, Aisha Ahmed, at home Sunday. She said her daughter is a 26-year-old law student studying in Tripoli, and said that she was a hero for telling about what had happened to her, despite risk of further personal injury.
Ahmed said that her daughter had been offered money and a new house by government representatives if she would change her story, but al-Obeidy refused.
“She said, ‘I will die rather than change my words,’ ” Hasan Modeer, an activist who was with Ahmed when the call came at 3 a.m. Sunday, said.
Government officials are saying that al-Obeidy is a prostitute, and that she knew her assailants in what was a “party gone wrong,” though al-Obeidy says she was detained at a checkpoint headed toward Tripoli.
Reuters spoke to a man named Wadad Omar, who said she was her cousin. He said Obaidi was originally from east Libya and was first arrested after taking part in a protest in the early days of the uprising in the western city of Zawiyah.
Five men were arrested Sunday in connection to the incident, one of them the son of a high-ranking Libyan police officer, the New York Daily News reported.
Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim admitted that the scene in the hotel in Tripoli Saturday had been “mishandled.”
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
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