Libyan Woman Tells Her Story Of Rape, Uncensored

Last month at the White House, Libyan-American women demonstrated to show solidarity with Iman al-Obeidi, who says she was raped by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. i i

hide captionLast month at the White House, Libyan-American women demonstrated to show solidarity with Iman al-Obeidi, who says she was raped by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Last month at the White House, Libyan-American women demonstrated to show solidarity with Iman al-Obeidi, who says she was raped by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Last month at the White House, Libyan-American women demonstrated to show solidarity with Iman al-Obeidi, who says she was raped by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

More than two weeks ago, Iman al-Obeidi burst into a Tripoli hotel and told assembled journalists there that she had been gang-raped by members of forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi after being stopped at a checkpoint in the capital.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro snuck out of her guarded hotel Monday with another reporter and went to visit Obeidi at her home. They were the first reporters to independently speak with her in person. Because journalists are unable to report freely in Tripoli, NPR cannot verify her claims.

Read excerpts from NPR's interview with Iman al-Obeidi.

Iman al-Obeidi greets us in a pair of shorts and a striped T-shirt. She is dressed informally because we are all women, and she hasn't been going out much lately.

She tells us she hasn't ventured outside in three days and is struggling to keep her morale high. She says she has little access to the outside world, few friends come to see her, and she is afraid to go out for too long as she is now a recognized face in the capital after Libyan state television launched a smear campaign against her.

The marks on her body from her ordeal are still visible. She says this is the first time she has really spoken in detail about the horror of her rape and her dramatic escape.

Obeidi, who is 28 years old and unmarried, says she was picked up at a checkpoint because her ID card said she was from the east, where the rebellion against Gadhafi was born. She says they were trying to punish her for what was happening there. She and another woman were taken to a house, she says, where there were a lot of men.

"I was fighting them off so much that they tied my legs and arms together. They were drinking a lot, and they would spill the alcohol in my eyes," Obeidi says. "And they would kick my head with their boots."

She says the men would come in groups of three and repeatedly rape her. But according to Obeidi, the ringleader was a man she recognized — the son of a government minister. She says he was the most brutal.

"Every time he would try to rape me, I would push him away with my legs, and he would scratch my thighs from both sides to force me," she says.

She partially pulls down her shorts to show the fading marks.

"For two days this happened to me," she says. "They raped me again really early in the morning on the third day. They were totally drunk. A lot of them just passed out.

A Ministry of Information official tries to grab Obeidi last month at a Libyan hotel, after she told reporters that she was sexually assaulted. i i

hide captionA Ministry of Information official tries to grab Obeidi last month at a Libyan hotel, after she told reporters that she was sexually assaulted.

Jerome Delay/AP
A Ministry of Information official tries to grab Obeidi last month at a Libyan hotel, after she told reporters that she was sexually assaulted.

A Ministry of Information official tries to grab Obeidi last month at a Libyan hotel, after she told reporters that she was sexually assaulted.

Jerome Delay/AP

"I was in a big room with the other woman. They were raping her, too, but she wasn't fighting back so they didn't tie her up. I asked the other woman to please try to untie me. ... It took awhile to convince the other woman to help me."

Obeidi eventually freed herself and snuck out the window. She says the woman who helped her stayed behind, too frightened to try to run away.

Wrapped only in a tablecloth and bleeding, Obeidi says she tried to make her way out of the compound, but there was a huge wall and an electric gate. She grabbed a piece of metal and ran at the two African guards who were sleeping, screaming hysterically and demanding that the gate be opened.

"The guards were shocked to see a bleeding naked woman with wild hair holding a piece of metal," she says. "So they opened the gate for me and I just ran out."

And there, she was helped by people in the neighborhood.

"[The neighbors] put me in a taxi, paid the fare, and I told the taxi driver to take me to the hotel [where the journalists are staying]," she says.

She says she went there because she knew she would never get justice otherwise.

The government initially tried to call Obeidi a liar, but she was physically examined and witnesses corroborated her story.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim acknowledges that it seems she was raped, but he is still calling her reputation into question by variously saying she has a political agenda or is a prostitute.

"This woman, this is her line of work. She's well-known for that — she has a file. This is no secret," Ibrahim says. "She claimed that she was kidnapped and raped. This is a legal criminal case. We wondered why she made it look political. I mean, it's not like the whole Libyan army raped her, is it?"

Back in her apartment, Obeidi says the government simply wants to hide what happened. She has been to the prosecutor's office, but no one has brought the men up on charges. They haven't even searched the house where she was held for days, she says. Even her lawyers have asked her to change her story.

The only thing she wants now is to be able to go home to her family in the east. But she says the Gadhafi family is refusing to allow her to travel.

And so she sits and waits, afraid but undaunted.

"I want my freedom," she says. "I want my family."

Excerpts From NPR's Interview With Iman al-Obeidi

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro spoke recently with Iman al-Obeidi, a Libyan woman who alleges she was gang-raped by members of forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The following are excerpts from the interview. Please note that some of the content is graphic.

The Alleged Attacker

It fills me with pain and fear and injustice that this man is able to roam freely in the streets, and the only reason is that he is a relative of Gadhafi. ... I feel oppression, and I saw them driving around in the Medina freely. ...

I knew him when he was raping [me]. And my sister used to work for his father, and I told him that we know your family, and he didn't care. He shrugged it off and said, "Do what you want." He told me, "You're not even going to get out of here. You'll die."

The Alleged Rape

I was coming from the suburbs at around 7 a.m. They asked the taxi driver, "Who is this?" — asked him, "Is she Libyan?" He said yes. He saw on my ID that I am from the east, and he said, "Oh, you're an easterner, get out of the car." ...

It was getting close to sunset, and I saw the place they were taking us to. I could see just a little because it was dark, and they forced us out of the car, and forced us in the house. They were trying to make us desire to come into the house with them, but also scare us.

But when they started insulting me because I am from the east, I was also antagonizing them, and when I saw the man, I got even angrier because I knew him and knew his family. He was the one who beat me the most out of all the men who raped me. And I beat them back and tried to fend them off. And I was fighting them off so much that they tied my legs and arms together. ...

During the rape they would close my mouth and stop me from breathing. They would put something over my head to suffocate me, and then they would rape me. My entire neck was blue because they were strangling me. ...

The Escape

For two days this happened to me. They raped me again really early in the morning on the third day. They were totally drunk — a lot of them just passed out. I was in a big room with the other woman. They were raping her, too, but she wasn't fighting back so they didn't tie her up. I asked the other woman to please try to untie me. We tried to untie my legs, but it hurt because [the rope] was so tight.

After a while, I convinced the other woman to go get a knife to [help me get untied]. It took awhile to convince the other woman to help me. But the other woman did get the knife, and I was able to free myself. I was naked the entire time. All I had was a see-through tablecloth around me, but I didn't care. I just wanted to get out of there. There were two men sleeping in the room while all of this was happening. But they were so drunk they didn't even notice what was going on. I opened the window, and there wasn't a very long drop, so I jumped out. But the door was electronic and the fences were like a prison, they were so high. I couldn't climb over them.

There were two small rooms next to the gate. I opened the first one — it was a type of storage. I opened the next one and there were two African guards sleeping. I grabbed a big piece of metal, destroyed their walkie-talkies. The two guards started freaking out and screaming hysterically. I told them to open the door for me, threatening them with the piece of metal. The guards were shocked to see a bleeding naked woman with wild hair holding a piece of metal. So they opened the gate for me and I just ran out.

I ran out past the gate. This is a huge property where the house is located. It took me a long time to actually get to a street. I ran down the side of the house, turned right, and then I heard the sound of the man's jeep, following me. The man wasn't in there, but his buddies were in the car — the same car used to kidnap me. I could hear it coming behind me, and I just started screaming and running, screaming and running, making a big scene.

There was a woman on the side of the street loading her car with luggage, and I told her, "Run away before they kidnap you," and the woman ran away because I was making a huge scene. Then the drivers turned around and came toward me, and I just started screaming. That's when people started coming in from the neighborhood, started coming out of their houses to see what was going on. The man in the car said, "Just come back into the car, we'll take you back, we'll give you your clothes and send you back home." But I refused and kept screaming. Then I ran toward some of the neighbors, who protected me.

They took me in. They found me something to cover myself because I was screaming for a blanket or something to cover myself. Some women brought me the Abaya [robe] and something to put over my head, and I was protected by the neighbors.

Some of the neighbors put me in a car and wanted to take me to the police, but I refused. I knew that if I go to the police they'll arrest me, they won't arrest the rapists. So the neighbors agreed. They put me in a taxi, paid the fare, and I told the taxi driver to take me to the hotel [where the journalists are staying]. I had heard about these "truth commissions," so I had to come and see the journalists because I didn't want my case to be buried. ...

The Police

Eventually I went to the police because they took me there after the incident at the hotel. ... I gave my phone number to the neighbors who helped me. When I went to the police station the first day, they took away my phone. But the second day, they gave it back to me. ... One of the neighbors actually called me wanting to know where I was. I told him that I was still at the police station and they wouldn't let me out. I described the house to the police, but I didn't know exactly where it was. Even the people who took me there didn't know how to get there perfectly. So the neighbors said they would come to the police station as witnesses for me, and we would take the cops to the house where I was raped. And the neighbors came, told the police what happened, and the neighbors took the police back to the house, but the police didn't bother going inside. Until today, none of the police have been inside the house.

I don't know what happened to the other woman. The police should have gone in then. They had a warrant to go inside the house, but they didn't.

The Smear Campaign

At first the police were all saying, "You're from the east, the rebels probably sent you, this is a conspiracy." But then I went to the doctor and it [the rape] was proven. The witnesses came and the police started to believe my story. That's when they started to bury the story and not make a big fuss about everything.

Then there was a smear campaign against me in the Libyan media, especially the woman [Libyan state TV presenter Hala Misrati] who started saying that people could really see who Iman al-Obeidi is. She accused me on TV of knowing the men who raped me. She called me a prostitute, all this stuff. ...

They wanted to put the focus on me, to smear me and discredit me. They claimed they had CDs of me in the bedroom or dancing to make me sound like a prostitute. They were trying to take the focus off of the crime and off of the brigades who hurt me. ...

It's all lies. They say they bring journalists to Libya, and you guys are stuck inside the hotel. I say I'm being raped, and they say I'm mentally challenged. They say people protest peacefully, and they [the people] say they're given hallucinogenic. Everything is just illogical. There's so much irrationality in what the government is saying to reporters that it discredits the government. ...

The Aftermath

They told me I am not allowed to go anywhere outside of Tripoli, not even to Zawiya or Tajoura. I want my freedom. I want my family, where I feel safe, and they have supported me from the beginning of this. ...

When I go outside, a lot of people say they're proud of me — even when I go to the courthouse. Sometimes I'll get into a taxi and the driver is so proud of me he won't even take money from me — he'll just give me a free ride. But other drivers get freaked out and scared and tell me to get out of the car when they see me. ...

On a typical day, I'll go to court, try to follow up on my case. Then I'll go back home and get on the Internet when it's working. I can't work, I can't apply for jobs. ...

I'm too scared to even look for a job. Before the incident, I was a graduate student in law, so I wasn't working. Now I'm too scared.

I don't even think long-term or future, [I] live day by day. My main goal is to get to my family.

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