TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A weeping Libyan woman made a desperate plea for help on Saturday, slipping into a Tripoli hotel full of foreign journalists to show bruises and scars she said had been inflicted on her by Muammar Gaddafi’s militiamen.
As reporters gathered to hear her story, security guards grabbed the woman, bundled her into a car and drove her away following a brawl in which several journalists were beaten.
The woman, Eman al-Obaidi, said she was arrested at a checkpoint in Tripoli because she is from the city of Benghazi, the bastion of a rebel insurgency against Gaddafi’s rule.
“They swore at me and they filmed me. I was alone. There was whiskey. I was tied up,” she said, weeping and stretching out her arms to show scars.
Her face was heavily bruised and her upper right thigh had blood on it. “They peed on me. They violated my honour,” said Obaid.
Obaidi, wearing a loose black coat and slippers, said she had been raped by 15 men and held for two days at the checkpoint.
Her story could not be independently verified. It was unclear whether she had escaped or had been released.
Tripoli is Gaddafi’s biggest stronghold, full of loyal militiamen who crack down on any form of dissent as Gaddafi’s troops battle rebel forces in other parts of the country.
International human rights groups say Gaddafi loyalists have been enforcing their rule by arresting thousands of people. Libyan officials say they only arrest people linked to armed gangs or al Qaeda militants.
But as Western powers press on with air raids on Libya which they say are designed to protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces, people in the capital have become more outspoken in their criticism of the state.
“I am not scared of anything. I will be locked up immediately after this,” Obaidi shouted. “Look at my face. Look at my back. All of my body is bruised.”
One of the government minders attached to foreign journalists said the woman was drunk.
As she spoke, crying and shaking, hotel staff and plainclothes security men tried to push and intimidate her. She ran from one table to another in the hotel restaurant.
In the ensuing scuffle, one hotel staff member grabbed a table knife and yelled: “You traitor. How dare you say that?”
A man in civilian clothes took out a gun. A foreign journalist who was trying to get away from the scene with a camera on which he had recorded footage of the scuffle was thrown to the ground and kicked.
Obaidi was eventually forced into a garden outside the hotel. Journalists trying to get to her were pushed away.
“Leave me alone,” she shouted from the garden as one man tried to cover her mouth with his hand.
She was then dragged to a parking lot and bundled into a white car. Security men said they were taking her to hospital.
“They are taking me to jail,” she yelled, trying to resist the security guards. “They are taking me to jail.”