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This was because she burst into the restaurant of the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli and told the international press corps there that Libyan troops had beaten and gang-raped her. Her public statement challenged both the Gaddafi government and the taboo against discussing sex crimes in Libya. Government security forces dragged her out of the hotel to an unknown destination, and attacked journalists who tried to help her.
Government representatives claimed she was drunk, mentally ill, a prostitute, and a thief, and said she would be charged with slander. She was released from government detention after three days, and was interviewed several times by Libya TV —an opposition satellite channel—and by CNN, during which she offered graphic details of her rape and subsequent detention by government officials. She was initially offered protection by European diplomats in Qatar  and applied for refugee status there.
After initially protecting her, in early June Qatar forcibly deported her back to Libya. Al-Obeidi settled in Colorado under the name Eman Ali. Her father was a customs agent. Her mother told CNN that Iman had always wanted to be a journalist, but due to the lack of press freedom in Libya, Iman decided to study law instead. After finding foreign journalists in the restaurant, she showed them her injuries, which The New York Times described as "a broad bruise on her face, a large scar on her upper thigh, several narrow and deep scratch marks lower on her leg, and marks that seemed to come from binding around her hands and feet.
She told the journalists she had been stopped two days earlier at a checkpoint on Salahiddeen Road in Tripoli, while in a car with her sister's husband, later reported as Salih Hamid al-Aguri. When the security personnel heard her eastern Libyan accent, she was ordered to produce her identity card, and when they learned she was from Tobruk—where rebel forces were active—they detained her. She named the leader of the group who took her as Mansour Ibrahim Ali.
There was a scuffle in the hotel as government officials and hotel staff tried to silence her. Several journalists were kicked, punched, and knocked over as they tried to help or speak to her. Security forces punched Jonathan Miller of Channel 4 News in the face for coming to her defense, pushed Charles Clover of the Financial Times to the ground and kicked him, smashed a CNN camera, and pointed a gun at a television crew.