Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Libyan government, attempted on Sunday to allay fears for Iman al-Obeidi, who was arrested over the weekend after storming into a Tripoli hotel full of foreign journalists and making public accusations of torture and sexual abuse.
Mr Ibrahim promised those responsible for alleged gang rape would be prosecuted. But he failed to honour a promise that the woman would be allowed to speak to journalists.
Five men, including the son of a security force leader, who has not been named, have since been arrested.
Mr Ibrahim on Sunday implied the woman was forced to earn a living from prostitution. A party with a group of men she had previously known went wrong last week after she was forced to drink alcohol.
“We asked her why she was making a political issue of this and unfortunately one of the young men who had raped her was the son of a high-ranking person working for the state,” he said yesterday.
“It is unfortunate but it seems that she has a young child and is living with her sister after a divorce. It seems that she has to making a living by partying with men.” “Look at what Gaddafi’s militias did to me,” Miss Obeidi told journalists at the weekend. “Look at what happens – Gaddafi’s militiamen kidnap women at gunpoint, and rape them – they rape them.”
Although Miss Obiedi lives in Tripoli, she suggested her connections to the rebel-held east had prompted the attack. Powerful military defectors, Gen Abdulfattah Younis al-Obeidi and Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi. are prominent supporters of the uprising against Col Muammar Gaddafi. She said: “Easterners – we’re all Libyan brothers, we are supposed to be treated the same.”
The incident provided a stark example to the cordoned-off press corps of the oppressive regime’s readiness to use force against ordinary people with grievances. One official brandished a pistol and a waitress in the Rixos hotel coffee shop brandished a table knife before attempting to put a bag over Miss Obeidi’s head.
The woman, who appears to be in her thirties, had cuts to her face and thighs. Mr Moussa said she had spoken with a social worker and an activist with the government-backed Libyan Human Rights Commission.
Ordinary Libyans who learned of the incident from satellite television have applauded Miss Obeidi’s courage in confronting a system that metes out harsh punishment and torture to those that challenge its enforcers. “Did you she her?” asked one Tripoli resident. “She had the courage to show how bad conditions in Libya are under Gaddafi.”
The government has promised to arrange a meeting between Miss Obiedi and female correspondents should her sister and other family members agree. “She is keen to meet with the press to explain all this but her family must agree. It’s a very local thing – a custom in Arab society that the family must give their consent,” Mr Ibrahim said.
Khaled Kiam, Libya’s deputy foreign minister, said the complaint against the men would be investigated fully.
One apparent complication is that Miss Obeidi refused to undergo a medical examination to establish her rape claims.