Libya: Release Women Human Rights Defender and victim of rape, Iman al-Obeidi
The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) international solidarity network joins other human rights organizations and civil society groups calling for the Libyan authorities to immediately release 29 year-old lawyer and defender of women’s human rights, Iman Al-Obeidi. We also demand that those who have allegedly subjected her to a violent sexual assault, and false imprisonment, be brought to trial following a thorough and independent investigation. On Saturday 26 March, Al-Obeidi approached a group of foreign reporters in a hotel in Tripoli, and in a state of considerable distress, she told them she had been repeatedly raped by Muammar Gaddafi’s militiamen. In an effort to silence her and in front of rolling television cameras Al-Obeidi was attacked and dragged away by government officials. Al-Obeidi is now facing criminal charges herself, according to a government spokesman. Her parents say their daughter is being held hostage at the Libyan leader's compound in Tripoli.
Al-Obeidi said she had been arrested at a checkpoint in the capital because she is from Benghazi, a stronghold of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion in the east. "They swore at me and they filmed me. I was alone. There was whiskey. I was tied up. They peed on me." She said she had been raped by 15 men and held for two days. (The Guardian, 26 March).
In an attempt to discredit her, Libyan government spokesmen have claimed that Al-Obeidi was a prostitute and is mentally unstable. Spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said on Tuesday 29 March that charges of slander had been brought against her by some of the men she had accused: "It's a legal case," Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli. "The boys who she accused of rape are making a case against her because it's a grave offence to accuse someone of a sexual crime."
Al-Obeidi is a victim of rape, which has been classified by The United Nations Security Council as a weapon of war. The Security Council noted that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” Resolution 1820, passed in 2008, demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.” WLUML condemns the tactics used by the government to try to discredit Al-Obeidi’s account of the crimes committed against her. This is a cynical attempt to exploit cultural prejudices towards sexual relations outside of marriage. Furthermore, the behavior of the men who publically attacked her shows how militarism and patriarchy, a decades-long oppressive political system, and the misuse of religion have created a situation of impunity for men who practice violence against women. In the name of 'Islamic values', Libyan women and girls, including rape victims, have been placed in "social rehabilitation" centres which are used as an ideological brainwashing tool by the authorities, Human Rights Watch claimed in a 2006 report. Women and girls who have no male guardian have also been placed in the centres, where they are treated like criminals.
WLUML also salutes Al-Obeidi’s courage in drawing attention to her plight. In doing so, she has become an inspiration to women in other contexts who have come to fear the political and social consequences of speaking out in the face of violence, even by state forces.
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Solidarity Network
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