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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Alleged Libyan rape victim deported from Qatar back to Libya

(CNN) -- Eman al-Obeidy, who grabbed the world's attention this spring when she accused Moammar Gadhafi's security forces of gang raping her, has been forced back to Libya, which she had fled in fear.
Qatari authorities took her and her parents from a hotel in Doha, the capital, and forced them onto a military plane that left Qatar early Thursday and landed in rebel-held Benghazi. Al-Obeidy, who has gone into hiding in the city, said the Qataris beat and handcuffed her before forcing her onto the plane.
Al-Obeidy told a journalist that officials in the Transitional National Council had pressured the Qataris to expel her.
Hours before her deportation, Obeidy told CNN that armed guards had been posted outside her room, preventing the UNHCR representative from assisting her.
Alleged rape victim flees Libya
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The Qataris deported her despite repeated requests from U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and unnamed third parties, a UNHCR official told CNN.
"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 Transitional National Council to allow al-Obeidy to leave the country immediately. HRW added that an NTC 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. She was in Qatar awaiting resettlement as a refugee when she was deported.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had prepared papers for her departure from Qatar to begin a new life.
But her deportation to Benghazi puts her in a city that remains unstable. A bomb detonated Wednesday night outside the Tibesti Hotel in Benghazi, which has housed foreign journalists, aid workers and foreign officials since the Libyan conflict began.
CNN spoke by phone with al-Obeidy from Benghazi, where she had gone into hiding. She said that, besides beating her and forcing her onto the plane, the Qataris had taken everything from her and her parents, including cell phones, her laptop, and money.
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."
A number of nongovernmental organizations said they were making efforts to get al-Obeidy out of Benghazi to a destination in Europe in the next few days.
After arriving in Qatar, al-Obeidy made public statements saying the Transitional National Council -- the Libyan rebel leadership -- 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.
The UNHCR said it was seeking an explanation from Qatari authorities for al-Obeidy's deportation.
An official at the Qatari Embassy in Washington asked CNN to e-mail questions about the deportation, but did not respond to them.

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