- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Libyan rebels say condoms and Viagra found on soldiers loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi are proof of a campaign of rape waged by the Libyan dictator to terrorize male and female opponents.

Hospitals are dealing with an increase in the number of cases of sexual assault, said rebels and doctors interviewed by The Washington Times since the start of the uprising last month.

A doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety, said Viagra and condoms had been found in the clothes of pro-Gadhafi soldiers killed in battle and those captured alive.

Almost all of the victims of sexual assault have told doctors that they were attacked by the regime’s soldiers.

A resident of Benghazi, who is close to the rebels, said Viagra and condoms were found on each of the soldiers captured last week when Gadhafi loyalists advanced to the outskirts of the rebel stronghold in the east.

Before they were seized, the soldiers taunted residents over a bullhorn, said the Benghazi resident who asked not to be identified.

“They were talking on the mic and saying, ‘Tell your women to get out of the houses naked if you don’t want us to kill you,’ ” he added.

Residents of the capital, Tripoli, and Ajdabiya, a city in the east, made similar claims.

It is rare for rape victims, especially in traditional Arab society, to discuss their ordeals. This has made it difficult for rebels and human rights groups to provide accurate estimates about the number of assaults.

“We have heard allegations of sexual assault and rape by Gadhafi’s forces, but we do not yet have confirmed cases. We consider the allegations worthy of investigation,” said Fred Abrahams, a special adviser at Human Rights Watch in New York.

Nadya Khalife, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in a phone interview with The Times from Beirut that fear is an impediment to a better understanding of the extent of the assaults.

The Libyan government Tuesday showed how they respond to claims of rape by announcing that a woman who declared she was sexually assaulted by Gadhafi loyalists will face criminal charges.

The woman, who identified herself as Iman al-Obeidi, burst into a Tripoli hotel lobby full of foreign journalists Saturday and accused Gadhafi loyalists of gang rape.

“Iman al-Obeidi took a great risk to tell her story, one that in Libya can carry a lot of shame,” Ms. Khalife said.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the woman will face criminal charges, as well as a lawsuit from the men she accused.

“The boys she accused are bringing a case against her because it’s a very grave offense to accuse someone of a sexual crime,” Mr. Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Ibrahim on Tuesday refused to discuss Ms. al-Obeidi’s whereabouts, but he said in an interview Sunday with the Associated Press that she was with her sister in Tripoli. He also said at the time that police have a file on Ms. al-Obeidi for prostitution and petty theft.

Ms. al-Obeidi’s parents told Al Jazeera television on Monday that their daughter is a lawyer who is pursuing a postgraduate degree. They said she remains in police custody.

Mr. Abrahams said the regime must release Ms. al-Obeidi to her family and allow her to speak to foreign journalists.

“Until then, we will assume that she is still in state custody,” he said.

Khaled Mattawa, a Libyan-American poet and professor at the University of Michigan who has been in regular contact with friends in Libya, said rape is a “strange but unsurprising twist” on how Col. Gadhafi is treating the Libyan people.

“It seems to stem from [Col. Gadhafi’s] awareness of how rape was a form of psychological warfare in the Balkans and West Africa, where he was involved,” Mr. Mattawa said.

“This guy did his homework on how to terrorize the civilian population.”

Meanwhile, Col. Gadhafi’s troops on Tuesday forced rebels to retreat from Bin Jawad and Ras Lanouf, two cities in the eastern part of the country that the resistance took Monday. The two sides also engaged in fierce fighting in Misurata, 130 miles east of Tripoli and the only rebel-held city in the western part of Libya.

The regime has cut off electricity and water to Misurata, where doctors say there is an acute shortage of medical supplies. The city has been under siege from pro-Gadhafi forces for more than a month.

Since the start of the uprising, members of the regime’s security apparatus have abducted thousands of people on suspicion that they are collaborating with the opposition.

An innocent phone call to relatives outside Libya often results in detention.

According to the rebels’ Interim National Transitional Council, thousands of civilians have been kidnapped and arrested by Col. Gadhafi’s “thugs and mercenaries.”

Friends and relatives of Aly R. Abuzaakouk and Fadel Lamen are among the detainees.

Mr. Abuzaakouk, executive director of Libya Human and Political Development Forum in Virginia, said more than 2,000 people have been arrested in the western city of Az Zawiyah, while in Tripoli, “anyone suspected of being part of the uprising has been detained.”

Mr. Lamen, president of the American-Libyan Council, said his niece’s husband has not been heard from since he was detained in the city of Az Zawiyah.

Mr. Lamen said the regime is monitoring cellphone and Facebook activity, especially in parts of the country that are under its control. Phone connections in much of Libya remain erratic.

Atef Abd al-Qader Al-Atrash, a prominent blogger, was last seen at a gathering near Benghazi’s port on Feb. 17. He is thought to have been seized by forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi.

“We kept trying to call his phone but never got through, until some days later when a man who spoke with a [western Libyan] accent answered and said: ‘This is what happens to those who throw stones at us.’ But Atef had never even thrown stones,” a relative of Mr. al-Atrash told Amnesty International.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said there appears to be a “systematic policy to detain anyone suspected of opposition to Col. Gadhafi’s rule, hold them incommunicado, and transfer them to his strongholds in western Libya.”

“Given the circumstances of their enforced disappearance, there is every reason to believe that these individuals are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment,” he added.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which imposed a no-fly zone over Libya, also authorizes the use of all means necessary to protect civilians in Libya.

The continued abduction and assault of civilians has friends and relatives fuming.

“What is the international community doing to protect civilians in Zintan, Az Zawiyah, Misurata,” said Mr. Abuzaakouk. “Innocent people are under attack.”

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