The spirit of revolt has swept quickly across the Arab world in the past few months. Hosni Mubarak’s regime fell in Egypt on February 11th, and now rebel forces are closing in on Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Men and women risk their lives during a time of revolution, and many women find themselves the victims of sexual assault by soldiers and even civilians, as was the case when CBS reporter Lara Logan was attacked in Egypt. Adding insult to injury, Logan was heartlessly mocked by fellow journalists who not only suggested that her assault may have been exaggerated, but that by virtue of her good looks, she was asking for it. (Sound familiar? People tried to say the same thing about an 11-year-old.)
Here we are, at the end of March, and the story of a Libyan woman named Iman Al-Obeidi has surfaced. Al-Obeidi created a scene Saturday morning at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli when she burst into a dining area filled with journalists, shouting that she had been gang raped by 15 of Gaddafi’s troops. “She was manhandled by hotel staff and plain-clothed government minders before being dragged away from the site despite attempts by members of the foreign press to protect her,” The Daily Mail reports.
The Libyan government has been working hard to smear Al-Obeidi’s reputation by accusing her of engaging in prostitution, the idea being that it’s impossible to rape a prostitute. (Al-Obeidi is a lawyer by trade.) It’s sad to see the Libyan government borrowing plot lines from Pretty Woman, but that shows you how desperate they are to cling to power. Last night CNN aired footage of Nic Robertson interviewing government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim at a press conference, who told Robertson he didn’t want to talk about Al-Obeidi’s case because he didn’t want to bring shame to her parents or her daughter. He didn’t want to reiterate to the world that the Libyan government had accused a woman who was gang raped of being a mentally ill prostitute, but Ibrahim did just that.
Jezebel has video of Al-Obeidi bursting into the restaurant at the Rixos to share her horrifying ordeal with the foreign press, which ends with her being shoved into the back of a car and taken away to who knows where:
According to the Daily Mail, Al-Obeidi’s parents told Al-Jazeera today that their daughter has not been freed as the Libyan government alleged and that they believe she is being held hostage in Colonel Gaddafi’s compound in Bab Al-Aziziya. During the interview Al-Obeidi’s mother said: “I don’t feel ashamed, instead my head is up high” and that her daughter had “broke the barrier that no other man could break by coming forward to talk about her rape.”
Al-Obeidi’s mother “received a call earlier in the day from an unidentified caller, claiming to be from the Gaddafi camp, telling her that her daughter was at the Tripoli compound and instructing her to tell her daughter to change the rape claim in return for freedom and other benefits, including a new home or cash.”
There is no word about the location of Al-Obeidi (or her daughter) at this time. We’ll keep you updated on this story as it develops. In the meantime, take a moment to read Charles Clover’s first-hand account of the events at the Rixos on the Financial Times site. He writes, Al-Obeidi “lives in a world where power comes at the point of a gun,” adding, “Let’s hope her small effort to change it has not been in vain.”