Iman Obaidi, who burst into a hotel dining room filled with foreign journalists Saturday, is probably not the only woman victimized by government thugs, it is a depressingly safe assumption to make. Although the journalists were unable to independently verify her story — they are essentially under lock and key of Qaddafi's regime — her courageous attempt to reach them and the sheer multiplicity of excuses made by the government tell their own story.
She said she had been raped by 15 government men over the course of two days, after being stopped at a checkpoint. "They swore at me and they filmed me. I was alone. There was whiskey. I was tied up. They peed on me," she said, according to The Guardian's account.
Spokesmen for the government said Sunday that Obaidi is now back with her family, and that four men have been arrested in connection with what they say is a criminal, and not political act. Obaidi, a lawyer, has said she was stopped at a checkpoint and gang-raped because she was from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. The spokesman have also said the following: That Obaidi is mentally ill. That she was drunk. That she is a prostitute and a thief. The deputy foreign minister claimed Obaidi had even arranged to meet one of the men ahead of time.
Obaidi, a lawyer whose names have also been transliterated as Eman and Obeidi, is not the first rape victim to be thus discredited by authorities. But the sheer poignancy of events on Saturday have provided what is, for better or worse, the best way outsiders can comprehend events unfolding in turmoil: A single, terrible story. There is the arresting imagery of a Libyan outside clamoring into the journalists' gilded cage, a woman showing her bruises, waitstaff suddenly brandishing kitchen knives and shouting in her face, the woman being led away and shouting that they were taking her to jail and not the hospital, the journalists in crisp shirts being wrestled to the floor, their cameras broken and their memory sticks confiscated.
Not all of them, though. Here's the video of what took place, which as much as words can tell, needs to be seen to be believed.
Her story has struck a chord not just abroad, but also at home in Benghazi, where women protested on the streets with signs saying she was not alone. There are Facebook groups in English and Arabic, and a series of hashtags. Here is another sobering fact: Proof will probably be offered of Obaidi's release in the form of video, but there will be no way to know whether her statement is being made under coercion, or whether there will be any real justice. Whatever that would look like.