Hotel rape claim woman escapes to Tunisia

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The Independent Online

Eman al-Obeidy, the Libyan woman who was bundled out of a hotel in Tripoli and arrested when she tried to inform western journalists that she had been raped by members of the Gaddafi regime, has escaped to Tunisia.

Reports emerged yesterday that the 28-year-old law student had managed to smuggle herself out of Libya with the help of a military officer who defected from the regime. In a brief interview with CNN, she said she had crossed the border at Dahibah on Thursday evening, wearing a head scarf which covered her entire face, except one eye.

According to CNN, Ms al-Obeidy's escape only succeeded because the defecting military officer had managed to get travel permits. They were stopped repeatedly on the way to the border but once the paperwork was shown, the car was waved through. European diplomats then drove her from the border and are providing protective custody as she decides her future.

"I still do not know what I am going to do," she told CNN. "Of course, I'd like to see my family."

Ms al-Obeidy became a symbol of resistance inside Libya when she walked into the Rixos Hotel on 26 March and described to western reporters how she had been gang raped by soldiers loyal to Gaddafi's regime.

The hotel is the only place western journalists are officially allowed to stay in Tripoli and is swarming with government minders. Within minutes of Ms al-Obeidy's arrival, she was seized by hotel staff, who assaulted journalists who came to her aid and dragged her away.

At the time, government spokespeople accused Ms al-Obeidy of being a prostitute, drunk and mentally ill in what many saw as a disinformation campaign.

Within days her story had spread across the internet and was seized upon by Libya's rebels as an example of someone who stood up to the regime. Her story also reignited the debate about the prevalence of rape as a weapon of war in a country where sexual assaults are often seen as bringing shame upon a woman, rather than being a crime.

Ms al-Obeidy alleges she was detained by pro-Gaddafi soldiers because she had an accent which showed she was from the east of the country, where the rebellion first began. She has detailed how she was held for two days alongside a group of other women and repeatedly raped by up to 15 men. One of her attackers, she alleged, was the son of a powerful government minister.

She has described how a 16-year-old girl who was held with her managed to untie her hands and legs and help her escape the compound. Sympathetic locals then paid for her car ride to the Rixos where she hoped the western media would be able to protect her.

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