Conflict & Justice

Libya frees woman detained after rape claim made to Western reporters (UPDATES) (VIDEO)



A Libyan rebel waves the French flag during a march in Benghazi to support the international coalition on March 24, 2011, as rebels battled on to the eastern oil town of Ajdabiya today as plans firmed for NATO to take over coalition operations after Tripoli came under attack for a sixth day and death tolls mounted.


Patrick Baz

A woman dragged out of a hotel after telling international reporters she had been raped by Libyan troops has been freed, but soldiers are now accusing her of defamation, according to a report.

Agence France-Presse quoted a government spokesman as saying Monday that troops "lodged a complaint accusing her of defamation" and because "she has refused to undergo medical examination" to prove she was raped.

International media on Saturday tried to stop hotel staff and government officials from dragging away the woman, Iman al-Obeidi, who burst into their Tripoli hotel screaming that she had been raped by the forces of Muammar Gaddafi.

Obeidi, who showed signs of physical mistreatment, was eventually dragged out of the Rixos Hotel, where the international press in Tripoli has been housed under the close supervision of Gaddafi minders. She was then shoved into a waiting car by men in suits who at one point put a bag over her head.

Journalists trying to help the woman were pushed aside; cameras were snatched and broken; and several in the media said they were attacked. According to CNN, a government minder brandished a 9mm pistol at one point in an apparent attempt to restore order.

Charles Clover, a Financial Times correspondent, left Libya under government escort shortly after he was struck several times while attempting to protect the woman, identified as Iman al-Obeidi.

Clover, the FT's Moscow correspondent,wrote a first-person account of the incident, and his subsequent deportation, in Monday's edition.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, urged Libyan authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into Obeidi's claims.

"Iman al-Obeidi's allegations are stomach-churning," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, AFP reported. "The Libyan authorities must immediately launch an independent and impartial investigation and bring those responsible to justice if the allegations are well-founded."

Obeidi appeared to be affluent and in her mid-30s, and spoke some English. She said before being taken away that she was from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and had been picked up by Gaddafi's men at a checkpoint east of Tripoli, where said she was held against her will for two days and raped by 15 men.

She had reportedly suffered significant bruising to her face and she showed journalists rope burns on her wrists; she also had bruising and cuts on her legs.

Despite the government officials trying to silence her, and one hotel waiter brandishing a knife and yelling "traitor," she persisted, saying she belonged to a powerful eastern tribe and was targeted for a revenge attack because of her connections to Benghazi.

Libyan officials said Obeidi was drunk and that her claims would be investigated when she was no longer intoxicated, the Telegraph reported.

International journalists are not allowed to move freely in the Libyan capital and are escorted on organized outings by government minders. This was the first time a Libyan citizen had approached them inside the hotel.

Jonathan Miller, a Channel 4 News foreign affairs correspondent, reportedly said that he had been attacked by official minders while attempting to defend the woman.

"I was punched, violently pushed backwards over a chair, pushed to the floor," he said, according to the Telegraph. "In seeking to keep the woman away from the media, the minders not only came after her, but the journalists and security guards."