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Witness: Alleged Libyan rape victim appears bruised after deportation

By Nic Robertson, CNN
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Qatar deports alleged Libyan rape victim
  • NEW: A witness says Eman al-Obeidy had a black eye, bruises and scratches
  • No reaction from Qatari officials on Eman al-Obeidy's deportation
  • U.S. "very concerned;" U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees seeks explanation
  • Al-Obeidy tells CNN she was beaten, handcuffed and forced onto a plane in Qatar

(CNN) -- A witness who met with Eman al-Obeidy after she was forced back to Libya from Qatar said the alleged rape victim appeared battered and bruised.

Nasha Dawaji, a U.S.-based Libyan pro-freedom activist, said she was with three key members of the National Transitional Council, the rebels' government, when they first learned that al-Obeidy was forced from Doha and arrived in Benghazi on Thursday.

Al-Obeidy had a black eye, like she had been punched, Dawaji said. She also had bruises on her legs and scratches on her arms.

The council members were upset upon seeing al-Obeidy's condition and vowed to open an investigation, Dawaji said.

Alleged rape victim flees Libya
  • Libya

Al-Obeidy grabbed the world's attention this spring when she accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's security forces of gang raping her.

She fled the country and was in Qatar awaiting resettlement as a refugee when she was deported early Thursday.

In the hours leading to her deportation, armed guards had been posted outside her hotel room, preventing a representative from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from helping her, al-Obeidy said. The UN agency had prepared papers for her departure from Qatar to begin a new life.

Al-Obeidy said Qatari authorities then took her and her parents from the Kempinski Residences & Suites in the Qatari capital. She said she was beaten and handcuffed, then forced onto a military plane to Libya.

She also said the Qataris had taken everything from her and her parents -- including cell phones, her laptop, and money.

An official at the Qatari Embassy in Washington asked CNN to e-mail questions about the deportation, but did not respond to them. Hotel officials also could not be immediately reached.

Al-Obeidy told a journalist that officials in the National Transitional Council had pressured the Qataris to expel her. But, according to Dawaji, she did not blame the rebel group for the beating itself.

Her deportation came despite repeated requests from the UN refugee agency and unnamed parties, an official with the world body told CNN.

"We tried all night to prevent her deportation," said Vincent Cochetel of the UNHCR office in Washington. He said the Qatari authorities had informed UNHCR that they had a court order that al-Obeidy's visa had expired; and they ignored UNHCR's arguments that she already had refugee status.

"Forcibly returning a refugee who survived gang rape not only violates international law, but is cruel and could trigger further trauma," said Bill Frelick, refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. "All eyes are now on the authorities in eastern Libya, who should allow al-Obeidy to leave the country."

Human Rights Watch called on the National Transitional Council to allow al-Obeidy to leave rebel-controlled Libya immediately. The New York-based activist group added that a rebel group spokesman had told the group that she was free to travel domestically and abroad.

Al-Obeidy received worldwide attention on March 26 when she burst into the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli while international journalists staying there were having breakfast. She told reporters she had been taken from a checkpoint east of Tripoli and held against her will for two days while being beaten and raped by 15 men.

She later fled Libya to Tunisia with the help of two defecting Gadhafi army officers and their families. French diplomats drove her from the border and handed her off to rebel officials -- members of the Transitional National Council -- who organized her flight to Qatar.

After arriving in Qatar, al-Obeidy made public statements saying the National Transitional Council was using her. The council denied that, but her presence in Qatar appears to have become an embarrassment to the organization. Qatar's government is allied with the rebels.

Now, she and her family are in eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, the hub of the rebel movement that is battling to oust Gadhafi, Libya's longtime leader.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday that the department is "very concerned" about al-Obeidy's safety and had communicated with her. He said officials were working with international organizations to make sure she is safe and finds asylum in "a third country."

CNN's Khalil Abdallah and Tim Lister and Journalist Sherif Elhelwa contributed to this report.

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