Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – The dispute between the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council [NTC] and Eman al-Obeidi further escalated yesterday after it was revealed that al-Obeidi had left the country and was today recovering in a UN refugee camp in Romania.
Eman al-Obeidi is the Libyan woman who famously burst into a Tripoli hotel where western journalists were attending a press conference and claimed to have been arrested and raped at the hands of security men loyal to Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. She was forcibly removed from the hotel by Gaddafi forces in front of the eyes of the media.
Al-Obeidi later escaped to Tunisia, and following diplomatic intervention by the Qatari government, was allowed to seek refuge in Doha where she received medical treatment, and reportedly applied for, and was given refugee status, by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR]. Reports indicate that Eman al-Obeidi was waiting to be resettled in a third country when she was forcibly expelled from Qatar and returned to Libya. Eman al-Obeidi’s husband, Faraj Ghaitihi told Asharq Al-Awsat that her expulsion from Qatar was forced and that this included her being subjected to mistreatment [by Qatari authorities].
Ghaitihi stressed that his wife was also mistreated by some members of the NTC, saying that they sought to hijack her cause in the media in order to make political gains.
The NTC issued a press statement commenting on the Eman al-Obeidi case stressing that the Qatari government received al-Obeidi in coordination with the NTC, offering her medical treatment. The NTC stressed that all necessary steps were take to provide Eman al-Obeidi with the required comfort and medical treatment in Doha, and that this also included providing her father with a visa to remain in Qatar. The NTC stressed that the Qatari government expressed sympathy and understanding for the plight of Eman al-Obeidi, before extending her request to remain in the country, after all medical treatment had been completed.
The NTC also announced that on 3 June, and in full coordination with the NTC, and due to her visa ending, Eman al-Obeidi was asked to leave Qatar and return to Libya, adding that she had returned – along with her father – to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
The NTC stressed that no travel restrictions were placed on Eman al-Obeidi, and that she was free to leave to leave the country or talk to the media. The NTC claimed that Eman al-Obeidi voluntarily left Libya on 5 June.
According to the NTC statement, the NTC Executive Office provided the Qatari government with an official apology for any violations of the laws of their country. The NTC also reiterated its deep gratitude and thanks to Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar Crown Prince Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, and the Qatari people, for their historical support for the just cause of the Libyan people.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via satellite phone from Derna in eastern Libya, Eman al-Obeidi’s husband Faraj Ghaitihi said that his wife may seek asylum in the United States after receiving a number of invitations by human rights organizations and institutions.
He also revealed that Eman al-Obeidi had been forcibly returned to Libya by the Qatari authorities via military airplane, along with her parents, and that some members of the NTC sought to place her under house arrest upon her return to Benghazi.
Ghaitihi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “they prevented her from contacting journalists and media representatives, but I immediately intervened and told them that this is my wife, and I am responsible for her.”
He stressed “that the only one who dealt with her as he should was NTC leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, who met in Benghazi…and who was very paternalistic and friendly.”
He also said that the cruel and improper treatment that Eman al-Obeidi was subject to at the hands of the Qatari authorities pushed her to seek shelter outside of Libya, particularly due to the ongoing situation there. He stressed that “we believed that our presence in Doha would signal an end to her suffering and that she would receive the necessary [medical] attention, but this did not happen.”
Ghaitihi also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “unfortunately, the Arab sympathy towards Eman al-Obeidi was popular rather than official, we hoped the Arabs would adopt her cause, however this did not happen, and so it is her right now to search for a new refuge, she has no other choice.”
UNHCR announced that al-Obeidi had left Libya after being returned from Qatar. It announced that she had been transferred to a UN run refugee camp in Romania. UNHCR representative in Romania called on the media to respect Eman al-Obeidi’s privacy and allow her to “begin the process of recovering from traumatic events.” Sources close to Eman al-Obeidi said that she is expected to leave Romania and seek asylum in a third unnamed country, perhaps the US.
In an interview conducted last week, Eman al-Obeidi said that she was physically assaulted and hand-cuffed by Qatari security officials before being forcibly returned to Libya. She also said that the Qatari authorities had confiscated all of her possessions before forcibly deporting her from Doha, including her mobile phone, her laptop, and some money.