Free Iman al-Obeidi

Only a few weeks ago my co-blogger Philippa wrote a post quoting Freda Adler: “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.” In the case of Iman al-Obeidi this line has become distressingly apt:

The Libyan woman who burst into a Tripoli hotel to tell western reporters she had been raped by Muammar Gaddafi’s militiamen is now facing criminal charges herself, a government spokesman said.

Iman al-Obeidi was detained on Saturday after she entered the capital’s Rixos al-Nasr hotel and told journalists she had been beaten and repeatedly raped by 15 troops at a checkpoint.

With TV cameras rolling, she was tackled by waitresses, security men and government minders and dragged away struggling. At least two journalists were beaten or punched in the fracas.

Spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said charges had been brought against her by some of the militiamen she had accused. “It’s a legal case,” Ibrahim told reporters. “The boys she accused of rape are making a case against her because it’s a grave offence to accuse someone of a sexual crime.”

Women Against Fundamentalism have called for her to be adopted as a prisoner of conscience, and for rape to be investigated as a war crime in Libya:

But the media so often has to move on to the next sensational story, leaving Iman in danger of being forgotten. That is why press releases from the human rights organisations are not enough. She must be adopted as a prisoner of conscience: the woman who has risked her life and freedom in order to expose the use of rape in this war.

She is not the only source of this story: the website Libya 17th February 2011 reported on February 23rd that the Al Zawiye Street Hospital in Tripoli saw ‘many rape victims’ admitted the night before. Al Jazeera English reported on 27th March from Ajdabiya that several doctors said they saw ‘Viagra and condoms in the uniform pockets of dead pro-Ghaddafi fighters’, suggesting that ‘rape is used as a weapon of war’; they also said they treated many rape survivors from among the pro-democracy supporters.

Iman is a symbol of the defiant breaking of silence about rape; her mother said on television that she was ‘not ashamed but proud’ of her daughter. It is her huge achievement to have begun to turn the concepts of shame and ‘honour’ against the perpetrators. She must not be forgotten: her life depends on it.

We call on all global feminist and human rights organisations to use their resources to demand her release, now. We call on the UN and the International Criminal Court to investigate rape as a war crime in Libya.

Updates on the situation can be found at the Free Iman Al-Obeidi Facebook page.