First Published: 2013-06-12

 

Tunisia justice shows zero tolerance to Femen activists

 

Court hands European activists with radical women's protest group Femen four-month jail sentences for staging topless demonstration.

 

Middle East Online

By Kaouther LARBI – TUNIS

Four months and one day in prison

Three European activists with radical women's protest group Femen were handed four-month jail sentences by a Tunisian court on Wednesday for staging a topless anti-Islamist demonstration last month, their lawyer said.

"The judge condemned the three Femen activists to four months and one day in prison for an attack on public morals and indecency," Souheib Bahri said.

The women, Margaret Stern and Pauline Hillier from France and Josephine Markmann from Germany, had defended themselves in court when asked by the judge about the reasons for their bare-breasted protest on May 29, a first in the Arab world by Femen activists.

"I came on May 28 to stage a political demonstration and support Amina” Tyler, a detained Tunisian activist, said Markmann.

"I relish every opportunity to express my political views," she added.

"Baring our breasts is not intended to cause sexual excitement but is a form of activism," said Stern.

But lawyers representing a number of Islamist associations demanding to take part in the trial as a civil party condemned the Femen protest in socially conservative Tunisia, whose coalition government is headed by an Islamist party.

"It is Islam that honours women and offers them freedom, not the act of undressing," said Slah Khlifi, one of the Islamist group's lawyers.

Another, Monaam Turki, said the controversial act could be considered an attack on state security "under article 71 of the penal code, which carries a one-year prison sentence."

The case was being closely followed by activists and politicians in Europe, where it was seen by some as a test of democratic freedoms under Tunisia's Islamist-led government, which came to power after the revolution in January 2011.

After the verdict was made public, Femen's leader in Paris, Inna Shevchenko, vowed that her group would carry out further actions in Tunisia.

"It is a political decision that confirms the dictatorial character of Tunisia," she said by telephone.

"We are really angry after this very severe verdict and we will pursue our actions in Tunisia," Shevchenko added.

Three Spanish members of the topless protest group bared their breasts outside the Tunisian embassy in Madrid on Wednesday to demand the release of their fellow activists.

Femen has held other solidarity demonstrations outside European Parliament offices in Brussels, the German chancellor's office and the Tunisian embassy in Paris.

The women's French lawyer Patrick Klugman, who had said he was ready to travel "immediately" to Tunis if they were not freed, expressed dismay and called the ruling an attack on freedom of expression.

"It's an extremely heavy sentence. It is a grave attack on freedom of expression, not just for these girls but for freedom of expression in general," he said.

The women were arrested on May 29 after staging a topless demonstration outside the main courthouse in Tunis in support of Amina Tyler, a Tunisian activist with the same "sextremist" group who had been arrested 10 days earlier.

Tyler had been arrested for painting the word "Femen" on a wall near a cemetery in Kairouan last month, in protest against a planned gathering of radical Salafists in the historic Muslim city south of Tunis.

The Tunisian activist, who sparked a scandal in March by defying Arab-Muslim convention and posting topless pictures of herself on Facebook, faces possible charges of indecency and desecrating a cemetery.

Since the 1950s, Tunisia has had the most liberal laws in the Arab world on women's rights, and the ruling Islamists are often forced to defend themselves against the charge of wanting to roll back those rights.

But the latest text of a draft constitution, released in April, states that "all male and female citizens have the same rights and duties" and "guarantees equal opportunity to men and women."

 

Israeli ex-president Peres dies

Syrian army retakes rebel-held Aleppo district

Clinton, Trump clash in fiery first presidential debate

Morocco finally adopts Amazigh as official language

Saudi petition seeks 'full' rights for women

Oil prices post marginal gains

Russia tries to strongarm US with Aleppo assault

Jordan vows crackdown on online incitement

Assad, Russia press intense Aleppo assault

Iran's Ahmadinejad says will not run for president

Boris Johnson dismisses Erdogan goat poem as 'trivia'

Turkey dismisses 87 spy agency staff over failed coup

Egypt recovers sunken boat, more bodies

Israel's Peres 'fighting for his life'

Bombings kill at least seventeen in Baghdad

Netanyahu chooses diplomacy in US election

Iran sets conditions for joining terror finance taskforce

Who is the destroyer of Timbuktu shrines?

Assad, Russia opt for 'total war' in Syria

Israel to charge Lieberman party officials in graft probe

Egypt detains owner of capsized migrant vessel

Countless bombings in Baghdad’s Karrada since 2003 US-led invasion

Moroccan gets death threat messages over cartoon posted by killed Jordanian

Saudi king unveils austerity drive

Israel prosecutor general denies going easy on PM

Iran frees Iranian-Canadian academic

Supplies dwindle, strikes intensify in Syria's Aleppo

Rebels, civilians quit Homs under deal with regime

Oman court closes national newspaper, jails three journalists

Israel-US consortium signs $10 billion gas deal with Jordan

Closure of Palestinian pages sparks Facebook censorship fears

Morocco’s main secular party takes on ruling Islamists

British FM on key visit to Turkey

Ten Turkish soldiers killed in PKK attacks

Jordanians protest over writer's murder

Moniz says Washington has met its side of Iran nuclear deal

Coalition prefers final Yemen settlement to 'short' truce

Deutsche Welle sues Turkey over confiscated interview

Palestinians condemn Trump vow on Jerusalem

Iran conservatives advise Ahmadinejad to stay out of election

Moscow slams 'unacceptable' UN statements on Syria

Yemeni forces kill suspected Qaeda chief

Bulgaria court error delays trial over Hezbollah bombing

Oil prices rise modestly ahead of OPEC meeting

Qatari official banned from AFC vote