For a couple of weeks now, Libyan authorities have clearly believed that a carefully chaperoned foreign press corps could be useful for presenting images to the world suggesting that, at least in Tripoli, Colonel Gaddafi does not lack popular support.
That hasn’t stopped reporters complaining about the restrictions that prevent them from real news-gathering and naturally the government’s blatant effort to control reporting has become a story itself. But an incident today inside the hotel where the press spends much of its time sequestered, has effectively ripped back the veil. It looks like it’s going to be just a matter of time before all the foreign press gets kicked out of Gaddafi-controlled Libya.
The New York Times reports:
A Libyan woman burst into the hotel housing the foreign press in Tripoli on Saturday morning in an attempt to tell journalists that she had been raped and beaten by members of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s militia. After struggling for nearly an hour to resist removal by Colonel Qaddafi’s security forces, she was dragged away from the hotel screaming.
“They say that we are all Libyans and we are one people,” said the woman, who gave her name as Eman al-Obeidy, barging in during breakfast at the hotel dining room. “But look at what the Qaddafi men did to me.” She displayed a broad bruise on her face, a large scar on her upper thigh, several narrow and deep scratch marks lower on her leg, and marks that seemed to come from binding around her hands and feet.
She said she had been raped by 15 men. “I was tied up, and they defecated and urinated on me,” she said. “They violated my honor.”
She pleaded for friends she said were still in custody. “They are still there, they are still there,” she said. “As soon as I leave here, they are going to take me to jail.”
For the members of the foreign news media here at the invitation of the government of Colonel Qaddafi — and largely confined to the Rixos Hotel except for official outings — the episode was a reminder of the brutality of the Libyan government and the presence of its security forces even among the hotel staff. People in hotel uniforms, who just hours before had been serving coffee and clearing plates, grabbed table knives and rushed to physically restrain the woman and to hold back the journalists.
Ms. Obeidy said she was a native of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi who had been stopped by Qaddafi militia on the outskirts of Tripoli. After being held for about two days, she said, she had managed to escape. Wearing a black robe, a veil and slippers, she ran into the Rixos Hotel here, asking specifically to speak to the news service Reuters and The New York Times. “There is no media coverage outside,” she yelled at one point.
“They swore at me and they filmed me. I was alone. There was whiskey. I was tied up,” she told Michael Georgy of Reuters, the only journalist who was able to speak with her briefly. “I am not scared of anything. I will be locked up immediately after this.” She added: “Look at my face. Look at my back.” Her other comments were captured by television cameras.
A wild scuffle began as journalists tried to interview, photograph and protect her. Several journalists were punched, kicked and knocked on the floor by the security forces , working in tandem with people who until then had appeared to be members of the hotel staff. A television camera belonging to CNN was destroyed in the struggle, and security forces seized a device that a Financial Times reporter had used to record her testimony. A plainclothes security officer pulled out a revolver.
Two members of the hotel staff grabbed table knives to threaten both Ms. Obeidy and the journalists.
“Turn them around, turn them around,” a waiter shouted, trying to block the foreign news media from having access to Ms. Obeidy. A woman on the staff shouted: “Why are you doing this? You are a traitor!” and briefly put a coat over Ms. Obeidy’s head.
There was a prolonged standoff behind the hotel as the security officials apparently restrained themselves because of the presence of so many journalists, but Ms. Obeidy was ultimately forced into a white car and taken away.
“Leave me alone,” she shouted as one man tried to cover her mouth with his hand.
“They are taking me to jail,” she yelled, trying to resist the security guards, according to Reuters. “They are taking me to jail.”
Questioned about her treatment, Khalid Kaim, the deputy foreign minister, promised that she would be treated in accordance with the law. Musa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, said she appeared to be drunk and mentally ill. “Her safety of course is guaranteed,” he said, adding that the authorities were investigating the case, including the possibility that her reports of abuse were “fantasies.”
Charles Clover of The Financial Times, who had put himself in the way of the security forces trying to apprehend her, was put into a van and driven to the border shortly afterward. He said that the night before he had been told to leave because of what Libyan government officials said were inaccuracies in his reports.