Five months after the liberation of Libya, the country remains largely unstable. But that's not keeping some adventurous tourists from venturing in to explore the country. They're curious to learn about what Libya was like before - and since the revolution - despite the possible dangers. Jomana Karadsheh has the BackStory.
Three months after the fall of Tripoli, life inLibya's capital is slowly returning to normal. Businesses have reopened, and traffic jams are replacing the huge crowds in what is now known as Martyr's Square. Producer Jomana Karadsheh spent many long days and nights covering Libya's revolution. She returned to the country recently, and sent us a BackStory documenting some of what’s changed.
BackStory fans know Jomana from her many on-air appearances; but she became even more familiar this summer, when she and Matthew Chance spent days trapped inside the Rixos Hotel. You can revisit those pieces here:
Tweeting from the Rixos – Matthew Chance's Tweets and live shots tell the story from inside the Rixos
Leaving the Rixos – Matthew, Jomana and the other journalists get out of the hotel
After the Rixos – The team reunites with the rest of the CNN crew, and goes on the air to talk about their experiences
After being held hostage for five days by Gadhafi gunmen in Tripoli's Rixos Hotel, Matthew Chance and producer Jomana Karadsheh were finally released, along with dozens of other international journalists. After the team left the Rixos, they talked about their experiences inside.
At first glance, "Mahmoud" would seem the perfect candidate to be a supporter of Moammar Gadhafi.
He has prospered during the Libyan leader's 41-year reign, first as a professional and later taking care of his deceased father's businesses.
But, as with many things in Tripoli, a first glance can be deceiving.
"Ninety percent of the people in Tripoli hate Gadhafi," Mahmoud told me over sips of espresso at a corner coffee shop this weekend. "All his people do is tell lies. If anyone tells you different they are just afraid."
CNN is withholding his real name for his own safety.
On an almost hourly basis, regime officials and government minders tell foreign journalists that Tripoli is a stronghold of Gadhafi and that dissent has vanished in recent months.
CNN, like other media here, is under severe government restrictions. But I recently managed to slip away from government minders to talk directly to several Libyans.
And according to several eyewitness accounts, major demonstrations were held against Libya's strongman as recently as last week.
And in the Souq al-Juma neighborhood of the capital, where anti-Gadhafi protests first erupted in February, the government's propaganda bubble is quickly burst.
While international journalists including me were ferried by government minders to a pro-Gadhafi rally at Green Square on Friday afternoon, multiple sources tell CNN that several Tripoli neighborhoods were wracked by running battles between protesters and security forces.
"They were protesting right around the corner. They streamed out of a mosque and onto the small square," said Mahmoud. "Almost immediately Gadhafi forces fired at them with live rounds."
Mahmoud and other sources say that the group was several hundred strong. He claims that three people were killed and that the area was put under lockdown by government security.
Other people in the area confirmed the death toll, but it is impossible for CNN to independently verify this account.
The government has repeatedly denied any anti-Gadhafi protests in Tripoli in recent weeks, including on Friday.
A taxi driver in his 20s also said that he took part in one of the protests in Souq al-Juma on Friday. CNN is calling him Jamal - not his real name - to protect his safety.
"We came out after afternoon prayers," he said, "we were unarmed and peaceful and they just shot at us."
He says he a bullet grazed his arm. Jamal says that unlike the rebels in the East, they don't have easy access to weapons to fight.
But he says, "I am not afraid. Even though we were unarmed, I am doing this for the future of my country."
Another protest was fired upon in a seaside neighborhood of the capital, Jamal says, citing friends who said they were at the demonstration.
Speaking to journalists in Tripoli is risky. Gadhafi's vast spying network means that almost anyone on the street could be an informer or worse.
Residents of Souq al-Juma say that hundreds, if not thousands, have been summarily arrested by the dreaded intelligence "brigades." They are never heard from again.
And it seems nowhere is safe.
Jamal says that recently, a family he knows pinned up a rebel flag out of sight in their home. Somehow the intelligence services found out.
"They stormed into the house, pulled down the flag, and arrested every man in that house," says Jamal.
But the worst indignity of all, people here say, is they can't bury their dead.
"The Gadhafi men. They come out and shoot you like cats," Mahmoud told me. "they hold their guns over you like this and shoot you like cats. We are not people to them."
Regime officials will often then take the dead away, he says, not affording people a proper burial.
"If we bury them, we must do it in secret."FULL STORY
Nic Robertson and CNN Photographer Khalil Abdallah spoke with Back|Story to describe what it was like to be in the room with Eman al-Obeidy, how the interview was arranged and who else was in the room with them as the interview took place.
From Nic Robertson:
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 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.
"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."
By Back|Story staff, CNN International and CNN's Reza Sayah in Libya
You'll remember she tried to tell her story to international journalists in a Tripoli hotel on March 26th. She said she'd been brutally gang-raped by 15 of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s troops.
Eman Al-Obeidy was taken away by Gadhafi loyalists. She hasn’t been seen since. A Libyan government spokesman says she's alive. He promised that female journalists would be allowed to interview her in the next couple of days.
Reza Sayah traveled many hours by car to visit the woman’s family and interview them to get their side of the story. Click on the above video to watch the full segment with Reza’s Back|Story. Reza just sent this note on the latest he has on the story:
“The mother says she still hasn’t heard from Eman. She’s aware of the regime’s promise to have two journalists interview her on Saturday. Her mother says she’s suspicious of the regime and worried that this is another plan by the regime to discredit her daughter and depict her in a bad light.”
TOBRUK, Libya (CNN) – Like everyone else, Aisha Ahmad watched the riveting drama unfold in a Tripoli hotel as a desperate woman burst into a dining room filled with journalists, sobbing, screaming, wanting the world to know she had been raped by 15 of Moammar Gadhafi's militia men.
The arresting images of how swiftly the woman, Eman al-Obeidy, 29, and the journalists were stifled stirred viewers around the world. But perhaps none more so than Ahmad. This was her daughter. And she was enraged. Just weeks before, Ahmad might have wept in silence. But now, with war engulfing Libya and its future hanging in the balance, Ahmad feared Gadhafi no more.
"If I were to see his face, I would strangle him," she told CNN in an interview at her modest home in the eastern coastal city of Tobruk.
CNN Phographer Khalil Abdallah was eating breakfast in the hotel, when Aisha Ahmad's daughter Eman al-Obeidy burst in on Saturday. What happened next was unexpected and violent. Khalil, the CNN Photographer, told his story to Michael Holmes on Tuesday.