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Pfizer Defends Viagra Brand Amidst Libyan Mass Rape Allegations

The Atlantic Wire
Pfizer Defends Viagra Brand Amidst Libyan Mass Rape Allegations
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Pfizer Defends Viagra Brand Amidst Libyan Mass Rape Allegations

Pfizer, we imagine, wasn't too happy about the shout-out its Viagra product got yesterday when International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced, as part of his investigation into whether the Libyan government is authorizing rape as a weapon of war, that he had evidence of Muammar Qaddafi's regime buying containers of "Viagra-type" drugs "to enhance the possibility of rape" (Ocampo has already requested an arrest warrant for Qaddafi on charges of crimes against humanity).

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To be sure, a Pfizer spokesperson, borrowing language initially employed in a May 18 press release, mainly expressed concern for the people of Libya, noting that the company is "appalled" by the alleged abuse and "condemns the misuse of any of its medicines," according to Sky News. But one also assumes Pfizer is concerned that the association of systematic rape with its impotency drug could damage the Viagra brand, which accounts for $1.9 billion in sales per year. Indeed, the spokesperson emphasized that the company had "stopped shipping all products to Libya in February, when sanctions were implemented by the international community." Of course, Ocampo used the phrase "Viagra-type" medicines, so it's possible the regime was using a knockoff.

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This isn't the first time that the Viagra brand has surfaced during the Libyan conflict. Earlier this spring, Al Jazeera reported that doctors had found condoms and Viagra in the pockets of dead Qaddafi soldiers and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told a Security Council meeting that Qaddafi was "issuing Viagra to his soldiers so they go out and rape" women, though reports by Human Rights Watch and NBC News cast doubt on these claims. In May, an Al Jazeera journalist produced a bag full of Viagra tablets that rebel fighters claimed were found in tanks and cars captured from Qaddafi's troops. Reflecting on the footage, which occurs about a minute and a half into the segment below, Victor Kotsev at Asia Times observed with suspicion that the medicines seemed "right off the shelf, neatly packaged with bar-codes and bearing Pfizer logos." Since generic medicines generally circulate in the "black market on which Qaddafi reportedly relies heavily," he reasoned, it's hard to imagine "that these new containers were found either on the bodies of captured soldiers in a prolonged military campaign, or in burnt-out tanks. It looks too much like a manipulation."

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In a video posted by freelance journalist Neal Mann, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim called Ocampo's mass rape charges the "same old nonsense," adding "we have always asked time and again for people to come on the ground and investigate accusations against us." 

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