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Libyan woman who claimed rape now faces slander charges

A Ministry of Information official, left, tries to grab Iman al-Obaidi, who said she spent two days in detention after being arrested at a checkpoint in Tripoli, Libya, and was sexually assaulted by up to 15 men while in custody in Tripoli. (Jerome Delay/AP)

The Libyan woman who burst into a Tripoli hotel last week to tell journalists she had been raped is now being sued for slander by the men she accused, a government official said Tuesday.

Iman al-Obaidi has not been seen since she was dragged by security guards and government minders from the Rixos Hotel on Saturday to prevent her from recounting her story of rape by 15 militiamen to reporters staying at the hotel.

Now, in the latest twist to the saga that turned her into a symbol of defiance against Moammar Gaddafi’s government, she is being sued by her alleged assailants, said government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. One of them, he said earlier, is the son of a high-ranking Libyan official.

“A legal case is being brought by the boys who she accused of rape,” he said. “It is a grave offense to accuse someone of a sexual offense.”

Ibrahim has given conflicting accounts of Obaidi’s fate since she was last seen being driven away from the hotel in an unmarked car. Initially, he said she was drunk and mentally unstable; then he said she was a prostitute. Later, he said she had been freed but that her family refused to allow her to talk to reporters.

Obaidi’s parents, contacted by telephone in the eastern city of Tobruk, denied that, saying they did not know where she was and that they would be happy for reporters to interview her. They praised her courage and said they had been offered money and a house if she would agree to change her story.

Video footage of the violent efforts of government agents to subdue Obaidi was broadcast around the world, and human rights groups have taken up her case. On Monday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch appealed to the Libyan government to release her immediately.

Liz Sly is the Post’s Beirut bureau chief. She has spent more than 15 years covering the Middle East, including the Iraq war. Other postings include Africa, China and Afghanistan.

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