Reports Emerging Of Rape By Libyan Soldiers
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
This is the last day of Women's History Month for this year and for much of the rest of the program we are going to travel around the world to bring you a couple of stories about women who are trying to make a difference.
In a few minutes, we will tell you about a mother of 10 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who survived horrific violence and is now working to improve the lives of other refugees around the world.
But first, we return to Libya, and we'd like to warn you that the subject matter of this next story might be difficult for sensitive listeners, so please be advised. As rebels fight Moammar Gadhafi's military for control of the country, disturbing reports have surfaced of rapes being carried about by state security forces.
Last week, the world learned of Eman al-Obeidy, the Libyan woman who told reporters gathered at a Tripoli hotel that she had been gang raped by Gadhafi loyalists. Al-Obeidy showed bruises on her body that she said resulted from the attack. And as she spoke, she was grabbed and wrestled out of the lobby by knife-wielding hotel staff. She has not been seen since. There's no way to independently confirm al-Obeidy's charges.
The Libyan government first denied the charges, now says it is investigating. But it also says that the men Obeidy accuses of attacking her have filed a defamation case against her. Now there's a report by Al Jazeera. Here's a doctor in Ajdabiya talking to Al Jazeera reporter Sue Turton about what he says he found when searching the pockets of dead Gadhafi loyalists.
(Soundbite of hospital)
Dr. SULEIMAN REJADI: If they were to bring cadaver to the hospital, I will search in the pockets. I have seen Viagra and I have seen condoms, also.
Ms. SUE TURTON (Reporter, Al Jazeera): And you ascertain from that that's why -because they were going to rape?
Dr. REJADI: Yeah, sure. Sure.
MARTIN: The doctor goes on to talk about two women he has treated who say that they were, in fact, raped by government soldiers.
(Soundbite of hospital)
Unidentified Man: They have entered this house and they have raped. They have raped, too.
MARTIN: We have Al Jazeera reporter Sue Turton with us now on the line from Benghazi. Sue, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. TURTON: No problem, Michel.
MARTIN: Can I ask you, did you yourself witness what the doctor described? Did you witness the condoms he talked about, the Viagra pills that he talked about?
Ms. TURTON: No. They showed at the morgue where some of the dead Gadhafi fighters had been placed. But he told me that he actually disposed of the Viagra and the condoms. It wasn't just the Suleiman Rejadi. Another doctor, also, that we spoke to, a younger doctor, he had actually told me earlier on that he'd seen the Viagra in a different soldier altogether.
So it wasn't - it was no way just an isolated case. There - a couple of doctors were both saying that they found these pills on the dead bodies that were being brought into the hospital in Ajdabiya.
MARTIN: And forgive me for asking, I credit their testimony, but how do they then make the connection that these items were specifically being used so that the soldiers can then commit rape and that is, in fact, a tactic in this conflict?
Ms. TURTON: Indeed. And I asked them that. And, actually, they almost sort of laughed at me. They don't have any real evidence of why they were carrying Viagra, but their attitude here is certainly is why on earth would a Libyan be carrying Viagra? This is a very conservative society and these men, you know, traveling an awful long way from home across, coming to the east to take over these anti-government forces areas. And they were almost before, when I said to them, are you sure, they have no question that this was going on.
I actually spoke to another team of doctors who, an Italian team of doctors who were here trying to get into Misrata to help with the desperate medical need that they have there. And they say they've also heard from a different set of doctors that they found Viagra on other dead soldiers. They'd also found woman's underwear that somehow had ended up in the pockets. Again, supposition that this woman's underwear had been taken. We can't verify any of that.
MARTIN: Were the doctors able to tell you the scope of the problem as they saw it? Were they concerned that this was something being experienced by many people in the population? Were particular people being targeted? Were you able to have any - did they have any sense of that?
Ms. TURTON: Yes. As far as the scale of this, everybody that we spoke to in the hospital and we touched on this issue, pretty much everybody talked about them knowing somebody or them hearing of somebody. I mean, it's very difficult, especially in the situation we're in right now where the city is yet again under threat. People are very, very scared. They're very scared of speaking out.
But then you've got the double problem that culturally here, people don't talk about rape. It brings shame on whole families, on whole communities. And they really don't want to reveal an awful lot. But even with those two things in mind, people were quietly saying, we know this was going on. We know an awful lot of people during the last time that the forces had taken over the city of Ajdabiya. Other people have fled. It was quite an empty city.
But it seems these incidents that people are talking about happened around the gates, the western gate, the eastern gate, where there was a large number of Gadhafi troops. And it seems there were certain areas where they were kind of held up in certain houses and it was in the vicinity of those houses that these stories seem to be emerging.
MARTIN: For those who are not familiar with the area, you had alluded to this earlier and I wanted to ask you to expand upon on this. Why would this be a particularly effective tactic in this particular region, such that people did want to bring your attention to it?
Ms. TURTON: Yes, there is an almost hatred amongst loyal Gadhafi troops of the people here. Colonel Gadhafi called Benghazi the old hag. And troops are coming to fight here, really wanting to punish people here. And this, obviously, is a huge way of punishing a community, not just killing, but abusing women, abusing the people here, treating people in such a degrading way, that there is another way of really punishing the people here for rising up against Colonel Gadhafi.
MARTIN: And, finally, if I may ask you this, if you don't mind, a story that was of particular interest to American audiences during the uprising in Cairo, was the treatment of CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was herself assaulted in Tahrir Square.
And there were other women reporters, as well as Egyptian women, you know, who reported that they were physically assaulted in a way that they felt was specifically targeted toward them, you know, as women. You know, where they were groped, they were threatened. They were manhandled in a way that was intended to be particularly demeaning to them. And I did want to ask, if you don't mind my asking, whether you have experienced specific threats to you because you are a woman.
Ms. TURTON: You know, we've been in and out of this area meeting all sorts of communities where they've all been anti-government communities and they have been as hospitable and respectful as I've been anywhere. I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and here. It's a much more comfortable place to operate.
Having said that, my colleague, who also works for Al Jazeera, who's just come back from the frontline today, and she said the threat there of rape is talked about almost on an hourly basis, at least it has been to her. Certainly the anti-government forces think that there is a very prevalent threat to reporters and they slept rough in Ras Lanuf one night before they came back here. And that was the (unintelligible). We must protect the women reporters here because there is a huge threat.
And I told you, I'm going up to the frontline later, in a few days' time. It's something that's on your mind, for sure. But so is the threat of coming under attack. I think as a woman reporter, you just can't think about these things.
We know that the New York Times reporter, the female that was taken with the other three men, was pretty badly handled. I know she's talked about that extensively, she came away. And we were under no illusion that if we were arrested by Gadhafi forces, that we wouldn't be treated well.
MARTIN: Sue Turton is a reporter for Al Jazeera. She joined us on the line from Benghazi, Libya.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.