Libya: Grant justice to the incredibly brave Iman al-Obeidi & declare her a prisoner of conscience Print E-mail


Scroll down to also read "Iman al-Obeidi, the woman who shamed Gaddafi"

WAF is deeply concerned about the fate of Iman Al Obeidi, the Libyan woman who tried to expose rape as a war crime by telling her own story and that of her friends to the international press in the Rixos Hotel, Tripoli, on March 26th 2011.

Since then she has been detained and then slandered on Libyan TV, and various contradictory stories have been told about her to the international press. She is now herself accused of slander.

We are pleased at the prompt press releases of 28th March by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Also prompt were the Libyan Interim National Council statement of 27th March, and the women's marches of support in Benghazi and Tobruk on the same day. She has been adopted as an unlikely but brilliant icon of the Libyan opposition forces. But they are powerless to free her.

The international press, whose Tripoli breakfasts were interrupted by Al Obeidi, and who watched as she was bundled away by Government minders with the help of hotel staff, have been persistent in the first few days in pressing the authorities about her fate.

But the media so often has to move on to the next sensational story, leaving Iman in danger of being forgotten. That is why press releases from the human rights organisations are not enough. She must be adopted as a prisoner of conscience: the woman who has risked her life and freedom in order to expose the use of rape in this war.

She is not the only source of this story: the website Libya 17th February 2011 reported on February 23rd that the Al Zawiye Street Hospital in Tripoli saw 'many rape victims' admitted the night before. Al Jazeera English reported on 27th March from Ajdabiya that several doctors said they saw 'Viagra and condoms in the uniform pockets of dead pro-Ghaddafi fighters', suggesting that 'rape is used as a weapon of war'; they also said they treated many rape survivors from among the pro-democracy supporters.

Iman is a symbol of the defiant breaking of silence about rape; her mother said on television that she was 'not ashamed but proud' of her daughter. It is her huge achievement to have begun to turn the concepts of shame and 'honour' against the perpetrators. She must not be forgotten: her life depends on it.

We call on all global feminist and human rights organisations to use their resources to demand her release, now. We call on the UN and the International Criminal Court to investigate rape as a war crime in Libya.

[A useful catalogue of news about this issue is the facebook page FREE IMAN AL OBEID HEREI] 

 UK ~ MARCH 27, 2011

Iman al-Obeidi, the woman who shamed Gaddafi

By David Cairns

Bundled into a car with a coat on her head as foreign journalists were wrestled to the ground, Iman al-Obeidi screamed that she was being taken to jail for telling the truth. He whereabouts still unknown, Gaddafi's regime seems to have 'disappeared' her.

It was an extraordinary scene in Tripoli yesterday as a distraught woman, her face covered in scratches, burst into a carefully-controlled corral of Western journalists, begging them to tell the world she had been gang-raped by Gaddafi's regime.

Given a glass of water, she told the press she had been raped by 15 men over two days because she had connections with rebel-held Benghazi, and pulled up her skirt to show bruises and bloody scratches on her thigh.

Addressing the Libyans in the room, she said: "Easterners - we're all Libyan brothers, we are supposed to be treated the same, but this is what the Gaddafi militiamen did to me, they violated my honour."

Her appearance at the press conference unsurprisingly sent the media's ever-present government minders into a spin. As one bent menacingly over her trying to drag her from the room she screamed in fear.

The hotel staff also rallied against her, with a waitress brandishing a butter knife calling her a "traitor". British journalist Jonathan Miller, Channel 4 News's foreign affairs correspondent, stepped between the two women, but was overpowered by government men.

He said later: "I was punched, violently pushed backwards over a chair and pushed to the floor." Other journalists were also tackled and a CNN reporter had his camera smashed and two memory cards confiscated.

A Libyan security man approaches the distraught woman

As security men led al-Obeidi away she screamed repeatedly that they would say they were taking her to hospital but were in fact taking her to prison. She added that she had been arrested at a checkpoint in Tripoli, where: "They swore at me and they filmed me.

"I was alone. There was whiskey. I was tied up. They defecated and urinated on me."

Reporters in the region say there is no way of verifying al-Obeidi's claims: but her distress was extremely convincing and she had the look of a well-fed, well-dressed middle- or upper-class woman - not of a freedom fighter by choice lying to embarrass Gaddafi.

Whether or not she was telling the truth, her action was one of extraordinary bravery which efficiently revealed the media repression and violence of Gaddafi's regime. Her continued absence from the public arena is also telling.

At a later press conference, the Libyan authorities swung into damage limitation, saying al-Obeidi was drunk and possibly insane.

Older readers will recognise this as the standard Soviet response to similar incidents. It was never quite explained how these insane drunkards were so good at sneaking into exactly the right place at the right time to make a scene.

The question that remains is where is al-Obeidi now? Will she be paraded to the media in contrition, denying her earlier claims – or simply vanish?