Eman al-Obeidi escaped Moammar Gadhafi’s dictatorship and became a symbol of freedom of the Libyan revolution. But four years later in America, she is no longer free.

A Colorado judge sentenced al-Obeidi Wednesday to six years in prison for assaulting two women last year in a Boulder bar. She was facing a maximum prison term of 16 years on the felony charge, but prosecutor Jonathon Martin opted for leniency, which the courts have shown her before.

Al-Obeidi, 32, who now goes by the alias Eman Ali, was supposed to have been sentenced July 31, but she refused to appear in court. In a highly unusual move, Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald ordered the sentencing to be held at the county jail, where al-Obeidi has been confined since January.

Martin said his office took into consideration her history as a refugee fleeing a war-torn nation.

Eman al-Obeidi, who now goes by Eman Ali, shows little emotion at her sentencing Wednesday.
Eman al-Obeidi, who now goes by Eman Ali, shows little emotion at her sentencing Wednesday.


“She has injured two women in a violent way, so we had to punish her,” Martin said. “But I thought she needed to be sentenced at the lower end.”

Macdonald told al-Obeidi that she presented a “level of danger that needs to be addressed,” according to a report in Boulder’s Daily Camera newspaper.

Al-Obeidi became known to the world on the morning of March 26, 2011, six weeks after a Libyan uprising against Gadhafi erupted in the eastern city of Benghazi. She burst into the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, hysterical. She told foreign journalists staying at the hotel that Gadhafi’s men had raped and tortured her and she pleaded for help.

She personified courage as the woman who broke Libyan societal taboos in speaking openly about a horrific sex crime. She was hailed as a hero for defying Gadhafi.

Several months later, she arrived in New York with the help of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and sought political asylum.

She settled in Colorado, but from the very beginning her life was laced with trouble.

Staffers at the refugee agency that took her case said she felt entitled and did not understand why she had to live by the rules. She failed to show up for job interviews. She abused alcohol and was arrested several times for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault.

She refused to take advantage of court-offered treatment and counseling programs, Martin said.

In February 2014, she confronted two patrons at the Bohemian Biergarten in downtown Boulder. She poured her beer on one of the customers and later threw a glass at the other, leaving a bloody gash serious enough for sutures.

CNN’s attempts to speak with al-Obeidi in July were unsuccessful. She refused to take calls, even though she had been grateful earlier for the coverage the network gave her in Libya and after her arrival in the United States.

At her trial in May, al-Obeidi claimed self-defense but the jury found her guilty.

Libyan refugee Eman al-Obeidi led a troubled life in Colorado.
Libyan refugee Eman al-Obeidi led a troubled life in Colorado.

“I took into account the sociopolitical circumstances,” Martin said. “I think that was worth some consideration. I do think there are mental health issues that need to be addressed. And there’s an alcohol abuse issue that needs to be addressed.”

Martin said al-Obeidi has demonstrated a pattern of aggressive behavior, accumulating five arrests.

While she was behind bars, she attacked a fellow inmate and is facing another pending criminal charge.

“She caused quite a stir back then,” Martin said.

A telephone conversation she had on June 15 with a friend is revealing about al-Obeidi’s state of mind and was played in court Wednesday. The Boulder County jail recorded the call, and CNN obtained a part of it through an open records request.

Al-Obeidi can be heard telling a friend about how she assaulted her cellmate a few days earlier. She laughs throughout the conversation as though she were describing a funny incident.

“I was in lockdown, I just got out today …” she said.

Her friend asked her why.

“Because I choked a f*****g b***h. I let her sleep, then after one hour, she sleep, I jumped on her, I sit on her, on top of her, and then I put my knee in her f*****g throat. She cannot scream.”

Then al-Obeidi said she put her other knee on her cellmate’s chest.

“And I f*****g took her head up and down, up and down, and I put her head in the mattress. She couldn’t breathe any more. She couldn’t call the cops. She had to say ‘hhhelllpp … hhhelllppp,’ ” al-Obeidi said, mocking the woman.

Al-Obeidi’s words were a stark contrast to the woman who had described her own torture four years ago, when she told CNN about how Gadhafi’s men had beaten her for two days, sodomized her with a rifle and how frightened she was that they would kill her.

Given al-Obeidi’s recent history, Martin said the judge decided not to force her to be transported to court after she refused to appear in July.

She will now be taken to a diagnostic facility in Denver, evaluated and eventually sent to a Colorado correctional facility to serve out her term.

The prison term puts a halt to the hopes al-Obeidi said she held in her heart. Of earning a degree from the University of Colorado, getting a good job, helping her family in Libya. Her American dream is now a nightmare and even when she leaves prison, she will have to navigate life — already proven difficult for her — as a convicted felon.

Al-Obeidi’s story is among several in the book “Now That We Have Tasted Hope,” a compilation of essays, blogs and poetry from the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring gave way to a brutal Arab Winter, plunging nations like Libya into conflict. In the shadow of that despair, al-Obeidi declared she liked nothing in Colorado. She admitted that sometimes she got so depressed she didn’t leave her apartment for days.

Those who spent time with her when she first settled in Colorado said they could see she was crying out for help. But she is no longer in touch with those people, including the refugee agency in Denver that had her case.

Al-Obeidi’s behavior, said Martin, has been poor. For that, she is now paying a heavy price.

As reported by CNN