Libyan Woman Accuses Gadhafi Soldiers Of Rape

Melissa Block speaks with Jonathan Miller of Channel Four News in the UK about the story of a Libyan woman who was dragged away from telling foreign journalists about an alleged gang rape by Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

On Saturday morning, a distraught woman bursts into a hotel in Tripoli where foreign reporters are staying, urgently wanting to tell her story. Weeping and bleeding, she said she had been raped by 15 Gadhafi soldiers who detained her at a checkpoint. She showed reporters bruises and cuts on her legs, scratches on her wrists and face.

Ms. EMAN AL-OBEIDY: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Look what Gadhafi's militiamen have done to me, she shouted. They have violated my honor.

Well, quickly, Gadhafi's security forces moved in. With the help of hotel staff, they beat back reporters, threw a coat over the woman's head and dragged her from the hotel.

Ms. AL-OBEIDY: I don't know.

Unidentified Woman: Where are you taking her?

Mr. JONATHAN MILLER (Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Channel 4 News, U.K.): Where are you taking her to now?

BLOCK: She was bundled into a car and driven away.

That was Jonathan Miller of Channel Four News in the U.K. we heard there in that tape. And he joins me now.

Jonathan, this woman gave her name as Eman al-Obeidy. Can you describe what happened on Saturday morning at the hotel in Tripoli?

Mr. MILLER: Well, just listening to that back, Melissa, is very chilling. It was a truly shocking incident and I was behind her as she walked into the dining room of the hotel, in which all these foreign journalists and their Libyan government minders were having breakfast.

She hitched up her skirt, which is a very unusual thing in the Arab world, as you'll imagine. And she showed these lacerations on her leg. And as she did so, she shrieked to the top of her voice: Look what these Gadhafi militia has done to me, look what they've done.

Her face was badly scratched. She had tears running down her face. She had marks on her legs, on her arms, where she said that she'd been bound hand and foot, as these militiamen who she alleged had stopped her at a checkpoint, taken her out of a vehicle, and then had gone on to rape her repeatedly. And, she said, had defecated on her and urinated on her.

And she was in such a terrible state that you would have thought that the natural thing to do would be to try to calm her down and take her complaints seriously, and try to figure out what had happened to her. That did not happen.

Within seconds, the kitchen staff had closed in on her. One of the waitresses was brandishing a knife and shouting at her: You've betrayed Gadhafi, you're a traitor. And seconds later, the minders themselves weighed in. They came at journalists with kicks and punches and threw us out of the way. And several violent scraps and scuffles ensued.

BLOCK: We mentioned that she was dragged away and driven off. And since then, the official government response basically has been to attack the alleged victim here.

Mr. MILLER: Yeah. I mean, you know, the government held a press conference in which the government spokesman said: Oh, she was drunk or maybe she was mentally unbalanced.

A few hours later, we had another press conference in which they said they were investigating the incident. And by the following day, the government was briefing journalists privately that the woman was a known prostitute and that she had gone to the checkpoint to seek paid sex.

And this, we believe, is a total smear, because journalists in Tripoli with whom I was working alongside, including The Washington Post correspondent, have contacted Ms. al-Obeidy's parents. And her mother said she of course is not a prostitute. She was a law student. And she said, I am very, very proud of my daughter.

BLOCK: Eman al-Obeidy also apparently talked about other women who had been detained with her, right? Do we know what's happened to them?

Mr. MILLER: Well, she did talk about some other women who were with her. It's not clear who these people were because it was very confused, this part of the story, because as she was telling us, she was being barged around and journalists were being attacked. So we didn't really get a clear picture of who she was arrested with. But there appeared to have been some other people.

What we have heard is that she herself has, the government claimed, been released. We have no evidence of this. They offered us no evidence and neither have they afforded us the opportunity to go and verify her story or their story, that she felt secure and safe, and that she was fine. We have been not able to contact her at all despite repeated requests to do so.

BLOCK: It must have been a horrifying feeling for you, as a reporter, to watch this woman being bundled off - she had just broken just about every taboo - and not know what would be her fate.

Mr. MILLER: It was a truly shocking experience to anybody who witnessed it. I was left feeling very, very sick at heart. Largely because it dawned on us -when the minders attacked us and her, it dawned on us that we, the foreign media, were the only ones standing between her and the regime that she alleged had abused her in this way.

We felt a responsibility on us to try to do what we could to protect her. And I suppose in that, we failed. Because ultimately she was bundled into that car, as you say, and we were left standing there absolutely nonplussed at what had just gone on in front of our very eyes - this shameless brutality and violence which was employed against her and against us. And we were still reeling from it two days later.

BLOCK: We've been talking with Jonathan of Channel 4 News in the U.K. Thanks very much, Jonathan.

Mr. MILLER: Thank you.

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