16 May 2011

Obeidi rapists: ‘We are the Gaddafis, we will stay in power’

Eman al-Obeidi, the Libyan woman who burst into a hotel filled with the world’s media to claim she was gang-raped by Gaddafi’s men, tells Channel 4 News what happened to her after that fateful day.

The interview with Eman al-Obeidi contains details that some viewers might find distressing.

On 26 March Eman al-Obeidi forced her way into the Rixos hotel in Gaddafi’s heartland, Tripoli.

Before the world’s cameras, hotel staff and secret policemen forcibly held back the media, smashed cameras and tried to silence Obeidi as she screamed allegations that she had been beaten and gang-raped by men loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.

Eventually she was forced into an unmarked car and driven away from the hotel grounds leaving the stunned journalists, and the watching world, behind her.

After weeks of confusion about her fate, during which she was denounced by the state as being drunk, mentally ill and a traitor she eventually managed to escape to Qatar with the aid of a defecting Libyan official.

‘Where are the men from the east? Let them come and see what we do to their women. Let them see how we rape their women, and humiliate them.’

Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller met Eman al-Obeidi in Qatar’s capital Doha, where she has been able to talk freely for the first time and Channel 4 News has heard her story in full.

She said: “I was kidnapped two days before I came to the hotel. I was kidnapped by Gaddafi’s people at a checkpoint – 12 to 15 people took me.

“When I entered the car there was another woman in there who had also been kidnapped. They took us to a place, it seemed like a big farm. When we went inside there was another woman who had also been kidnapped.

“My hands and my legs were tied up – and for two days we didn’t get any food or water. I was not allowed to use the toilet. They were raping me, one by one. One would finish and then another would come.

“They tied my hands to stop me resisting while they raped me.”

Libya: Eman al-Obeidi.

During the interview Obeidi also makes clear the motive for the assault was the fact she came from eastern rebel-held Libya.

She explained: “During the attack they insulted people from the east. I was asking them ‘What did I do wrong?’ I didn’t do anything, all I did wrong was being from the east. That was clearly stated in my ID.

“They told me ‘where are the men from the east? Let them come and see what we do to their women. Let them see how we rape their women, and humiliate them.’

“They used weapons while having sex with me. Everything they did was bad, and they kept saying ‘we are the Gaddafis, we will stay in power.'”

Jonathan Miller was one of the journalists who tried to defend Obeidi at the Rixos Hotel when she appeared. She told him of her reasons for daring to break into the hotel.

“At that moment I was so frightened – if they were not scared of the journalists and cameras, and the whole world watching, then what would stop them killing me?

“I knew it would happen, no matter what. But I was satisfied that at least I created a scandal. I didn’t want to keep silent about what happened to me. They have to pay the price for what they did.”

For weeks worldwide audiences begged to know what happened to her after the government officials took her from the hotel.

Obeidi described the moments: “When they took me off in the car, they were driving so fast and I was so scared. They didn’t take me to one place – they just drove around.

“They stopped at one point to pick up someone. This person told me he was from security, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and they were going to buy me new clothes.

“They changed my clothes and said they would take me to a Libya TV channel and wanted me to change my story. They wanted me to say that the journalists had got it wrong, and that the rebels were the ones that kidnapped me.

“I was bold and I refused – so they took me to jail.”

After many interviews with the police station, she was released but Obeidi was consigned to an effective house arrest during which she says she was beaten and held further by security forces.

“They followed me in the street, when I was home, and they beat me.

“The street was like a highway, so it was difficult to stop cars because they were driving fast, but they still stopped me.

“They kidnapped me and took me to the police station.”

Eventually she managed to flee Libya to Tunisia, with the aid of a defecting military officer. Only once outside did she realise the world wide attention that had been focused on her, and gives thanks to those who followed her story.

“I thank the whole world for their concern and for following my case and helping me even though they don’t know me.”