A distraught Libyan woman has told journalists in Tripoli how she was raped by government troops, before being bundled away by officials.
Iman al-Obeidi sought out foreign reporters in the capital’s Rixos hotel on Saturday morning, weeping and claiming that troops had detained her at a checkpoint, tied her up, abused her and then led her away to be gang-raped.
As al-Obeidi spoke she was tackled by hotel staff and government minders dragged her out of the hotel.
Her story could not be independently verified, but the incident is being reported as an indication of the crackdown on dissenters ordered by Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.
At a hastily arranged press conference following the incident, Moussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, said investigators had told him that the woman was drunk and possibly mentally challenged.
Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Tripoli, said: “The government initially suggested that she was drunk … but when they [officials] came back to the journalists later to reassure them that she was being well cared for … they did describe this as a case of rape.”
Before she was dragged out of the hotel, al-Obeidi was able to tell journalists that she was detained by a number of troops at a Tripoli checkpoint on Wednesday.
She said they were drinking whiskey and handcuffed her and that 15 men later raped her.
“They tied me up … they even defecated and urinated on me,” she said. “The Gaddafi militiamen violated my honor.”
Al-Obeidi, who appeared in her 30s, wore a black robe and a floral scarf around her neck.
She had scratches on her face and bruises on her body. She said neighbours in the area where she was detained had helped her escape.
She said that she was targeted by the troops because she is from the eastern city of Benghazi, the stronghold of rebel fighters battling Gaddafi.
The Associated Press news agency reported that waiters called her a traitor and told her to shut up.
She retorted: “Easterners – we’re all Libyan brothers, we are supposed to be treated the same, but this is what the Gaddafi militiamen did to me, they violated my honor.”
Government minders attacked al-Obeidi and pushed out of the way journalists who tried to protect her, smashing some of the journalists’ equipment.
Eventually the minders overpowered the woman and led her outside, shoving her into a car that sped away.
The woman shouted that she was certain she would be thrown in jail and begged photographers to take her picture, raising her robe to show them her bruised body.
A minder tried to cover her mouth with his hand to keep her from talking.
“Look at what happens – Gaddafi’s militiamen kidnap women at gunpoint, and rape them … they rape them,” she screamed.
Government minders in Tripoli have sought to keep a tight rein on what journalists there see and who they talk to.