U.N.: Libya rape victim Obaidi deported ‘against her will’

Alleged Libyan rape victim Iman al-Obaidi was deported from Qatar "against her will" on Thursday and sent to the rebel-held east of Libya, the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.

Obaidi burst into a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists were staying in March, saying she had been repeatedly raped by militia members loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

After being briefly detained by Libyan authorities, she eventually fled the country and, having been granted refugee status by the U.N, was living in a hotel in Qatar while she awaited resettlement to a third country. But she then apparently fell out of favor with Libyan rebels now in Qatar for criticising them.

"Last evening Qatari authorities notified her she would be sent back to Benghazi by military plane… and at 6:15 a.m. Washington D.C. time, she was flown back to Benghazi with her parents," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR regional representative in Washington.

"She felt it was not the right time for her to go back," he added. "We are very concerned about her future, we are very concerned about her security."


Iman al-Obaidi is seen in Tripoli in this Saturday March 26, 2011 file photo , after storming into a hotel's breakfast room to show her wounds to foreign media. (Jerome Delay/AP)

Cochetel said Obaidi had been deported "by force, by military personnel," after making it “crystal clear” she did not want to return. UNHCR had sent an official to protect her, but he had not been able to prevent the deportation.

Nancy Holohan, a San Francisco woman who was involved in a Facebook campaign to free Obaidi from detention in Libya and then became a friend over the course of many Skype conversations, said Obaidi was "terrified" about the idea of returning to Libya.

"She told me over and over again that she didn't feel safe going back, that she was in fear for her life," she said.

In the past, Obaidi has complained of receiving death threats from Gaddafi loyalists, and Libyan government officials are uniformly hostile to her, repeatedly alleging she is a prostitute.

Obaidi had been under pressure from the rebels to return to her home country for some time, and had come under fire for complaining about the lack of support she had received from the rebels and in particular from rebel official Mahmoud Shammam in Doha.

“Mahmoud Shammam had been giving her a hard time,” said Mohamed Ali, an official from the city council of the rebel-held city of Misurata, who is now based in Doha. “It is very counterproductive what Shammam has done.”

Another official, who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said the rebels had asked the Qatari authorities to send her home. Qatar has been a major backer of the Libyan rebel movement.

Holohan said Obaidi had received a cash gift from the Emir of Qatar to spend on shopping, but in recent days her privileges had gradually been withdrawn in the hotel where she was staying.

She had not been allowed to use the gym, and the security guard deployed to protect her had been withdrawn from outside her door. She spent almost the entire day in her room, Holohan said. “She was lonely and afraid, and very anxious.”

Holohan said Obaidi had her heart set on moving to San Francisco.

Separately, at least 200 migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe are missing after a fishing boat carrying them sank off the coast of Tunisia in a storm, the official Tunisian news agency reported Thursday.

The boat was believed to have set sail from Libya and was en route to Italy with an estimated 800 would-be immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia on board, including women and children, the report said.

Some 570 passengers were rescued by the Tunisian coast guard and army throughout Wednesday.

Simon Denyer is The Post’s bureau chief in China. He served previously as bureau chief in India and as a Reuters bureau chief in Washington, India and Pakistan.
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