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Woman bursts into hotel to tell of rapes

A journalist tried to stop a Libyan Ministry of Information official from grabbing Eman al-Obeidy (bottom right). A journalist tried to stop a Libyan Ministry of Information official from grabbing Eman al-Obeidy (bottom right). (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)
By David D. Kirkpatrick
New York Times / March 27, 2011

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TRIPOLI, Libya — A Libyan woman burst into the hotel housing the foreign press in Tripoli yesterday morning in an attempt to tell journalists that she had been raped and beaten by members of Moammar Khadafy’s militia. After struggling for nearly an hour to resist removal by security forces, she was dragged away from the hotel screaming.

“They say that we are all Libyans, and we are one people,’’ said the woman, who gave her name as Eman al-Obeidy, barging in during breakfast at the hotel dining room. “But look at what the Khadafy men did to me.’’ She displayed a broad bruise on her face, a large scar on her upper thigh, several narrow and deep scratch marks lower on her leg, and marks that seemed to come from binding her hands and feet.

She said she was raped by 15 men. “I was tied up, and they defecated and urinated on me,’’ she said. “They violated my honor.’’

She pleaded for friends she said were still in custody. “They are still there, they are still there,’’ she said. “As soon as I leave here, they are going to take me to jail.’’

For the members of the foreign news media here at the invitation of the government of Khadafy — and largely confined to the Rixos Hotel except for official outings — the episode was a reminder of the brutality of the Libyan government and the presence of its security forces even among the hotel staff.

People in hotel uniforms, who just hours before had been serving coffee and clearing plates, grabbed table knives and rushed to physically restrain the woman and to hold back the journalists.

Obeidy said she was a native of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi who had been stopped by Khadafy militia on the outskirts of Tripoli. After being held for about two days, she said, she had managed to escape. Wearing a black robe, a veil, and slippers, she ran into the Rixos Hotel here, asking specifically to speak to the news service Reuters and to The New York Times. “There is no media coverage outside,’’ she yelled at one point.

“They swore at me and they filmed me. I was alone. There was whiskey. I was tied up,’’ she told Michael Georgy of Reuters, the only journalist who was able to speak with her briefly. “I am not scared of anything. I will be locked up immediately after this.’’ She added: “Look at my face. Look at my back.’’ Her other comments were captured by television cameras.

A wild scuffle began as journalists tried to interview, photograph, and protect her. Several journalists were punched, kicked, and knocked on the floor by the security forces, working in tandem with people who until then had appeared to be members of the hotel staff.

A television camera belonging to CNN was destroyed in the struggle, and security forces seized a device a Financial Times reporter had used to record her testimony. A security officer pulled out a revolver.

“Turn them around, turn them around,’’ a waiter shouted, trying to block the foreign news media from having access to Obeidy.

There was a prolonged standoff behind the hotel as the security officials apparently restrained themselves because of the presence of so many journalists, but Obeidy was ultimately forced into a white car and taken away.

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