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Gadhafi's son arranges CNN interview with alleged Libyan rape victim

From Nic Robertson, CNN
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CNN exclusive: Eman al-Obeidy interview
  • Saadi Gadhafi sent a car to bring Eman al-Obeidy to his office
  • Al-Obeidy is not intimidated by his presence, calls him a humble man
  • She says she wants to clear her name, smeared on state TV
  • Story of rape and torture became known after she burst into a Tripoli hotel

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- It has been almost two weeks since Eman al-Obeidy burst into our hotel in Tripoli, desperate for the world to hear her story of rape and torture. We had been trying since then to interview her in person and were finally able to speak to her Wednesday, against the explicit wishes of the Libyan government.

"You should not be allowed to do this," government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told me.

The interview with al-Obeidy was facilitated by Gadhafi's son Saadi and was subject to a government review. We asked al-Obeidy if she would be willing to come to Saadi Gadhafi's office. She agreed and Gadhafi sent a car to pick her up.

She and Gadhafi met privately before our interview, the first time the two had met. Gadhafi appeared shocked afterward. He commented on her strong character and willingness to challenge him when they disagreed.

He and his press assistant sat in on the 30-minute CNN meeting. Some of the time, we were alone with her.

She came dressed in ornate black robes and with her head covered. She called herself an ordinary citizen, a good Muslim who is conservative in her social outlook. She spoke with clarity and exuded strength through the conversation, adamant about clearing her name she said Libyan state media had smeared.

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"Everything they said about me is a lie," she said.

"I am well-educated unlike the way the Libyan TV portrayed me. I come from a good family, regardless of what they said, I am also not mentally challenged like they said. Just because I raised my voice and talked to the media they blamed me and questioned my sanity. Nonetheless, I want my rights, even without the media."

She spoke of her abduction, of how she was taken to one of the residences of Moammar Gadhafi's soldiers. They were drunk, she said. They tied her up, beat and raped her.

Her bruises had faded, but I could still the see the evidence of her agony around her wrists. She said in the height of her trauma, she took pictures with the camera on her mobile phone, lest people should not believe her later.

"People have blamed me for showing my body," she said. "I was depressed and there was no way to show people how I was tortured. I was brutally tortured to the point of them entering weapons inside me. They would also pour alcohol in my eyes."

She said the men who tortured her are still free, without punishment. Later Saadi Gadhafi told me: "The people responsible for raping her should face charges. She is a strong woman."

Al-Obeidy, a law school graduate, spoke her mind in Gadhafi's presence and gave no indication that she was intimidated by him, even when she accused the Libyan authorities of lawlessness, brutality and lies.

"I wanted to defend myself because they did not even give me the right to respond," she said.

I wanted to defend myself because they did not even give me the right to respond.
--Eman al-Obeidy
  • Libya
  • Moammar Gadhafi

That Saturday, when she tried to speak to journalists at the Rixos Hotel, she was dragged off the property. She was beaten and thrown in jail. Her phone was confiscated.

At one point, al-Obeidy told her fellow citizens in eastern Libya and the besieged western city of Misrata to be strong. After the interview was over, Gadhafi objected to that line. Al-Obeidy agreed to Gadhafi's request that it be cut from the video, but only with full disclosure that those 10 seconds had been removed.

Ibrahim, the government spokesman, reviewed my interview and objected to its tone, to the questions I asked and to the overall content. But Saadi Gadhafi overruled his objections.

We were asked not to broadcast the interview until another government representative was able to look at it. At the insistence of the Libyan government, we delayed transmission of the video for 18 hours, waiting for word.

But the review never came and in the end we were cleared to air almost all of al-Obeidy's words with the exception of the 10 seconds that she agreed to cut.

She was thankful for Saadi Gadhafi's efforts to make the interview happen.

"He was a humble and understanding man, and he treated me well," she told me. "He said that he will take my case and help me."

She had asked for three things -- that she be allowed to clear her name, that her abusers are prosecuted and that she be reunited with her family in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Al-Obeidy took the first steps to getting one of her wishes. She is counting on Saadi Gadhafi to help her with the other two.