I fist saw Eman al-Obeidi, a postgraduate law student, on Channel 4 news on Monday. Her story shocked and upset me but her strength and courage really inspired me.
As a Western woman, I am used to being allowed to say and do pretty much I want. I certainly don’t expect to get beaten or arrested for speaking my mind. All of us, here in the UK and elsewhere, are entitled to free speech and the right to protest. I’m not in favour of violent protests, those riots before Christmas were shameful. However, I do believe that if you feel strongly about something you should be allowed to speak your mind. The government may not like it at times, but – as long as you remain within the realms of the law – they allow it. In places like Libya and Saudi Arabia, that isn’t the case.
Eman al-Obeidi first attracted attention on March 26th, 2011 when she burst into a restaurant in Tripoli, Libya, and told the international press corps that she’d been detained by Gadaffi’s troops at a checkpoint and had been held captive for two days, being beaten and repeatedly raped, with some of the rapes being recorded. Eman al-Obeidi also said she’d been urinated and deficated on. She appeared in the restaurant, understandably hysterical, bedraggled and without her hijab. She had bruises on her face and cuts on her thighs which she showed to the group of journalists.
Not only was she brave for speaking out against Gadaffi’s regime, she was also breaking taboos regarding the sex crimes in Libya.
After having been dragged out of the restaurant, despite attempts by the journalists to help her, Eman al-Obeidi was detained for another three days. Eman al-Obeidi then escaped to Tunisia. She is under protection of European diplomats and earlier this week, gave an interview to Channel 4 news, from her new location of Qatar, looking less scared and wearing her traditional hijab.
Libyan state media has denounced her as a prostitute, a drunk, mentally ill and a thief. The allegation of mental illness prompted some journalists to worry that Eman al-Obeidi would be incarcerated indefinitely in a government-controlled mental institution, continuing the list of forced disappearances. Thankfully, that has not happened.
Eman al-Obeidi could have been killed or incarcerated but was courageous enough to stand up against an evil regime. She represents thousands of women who are too scared to speak out, women who we need to help. She is a true hero.