Eman al-Obeidi, woman who shamed Gaddafi

David Cairns: No sign of woman who told reporters of gang rape by Libyan leader's men (with video)

BY David Cairns LAST UPDATED AT 14:43 ON Sun 27 Mar 2011

Bundled into a car with a coat on her head as foreign journalists were wrestled to the ground, Eman 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.

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? · 

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