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."

 

IS bid to seize Kobane stalls amid air strikes

Six Tunisians killed in police-gunmen standoff

Iraq MPs divide over Kurds deployment to aid Kobane

Suspicious envelopes to consulates in Istanbul prompt alert

Morocco fossils: A rare and vanishing treasure

Germany offers to help Armenia forge peace with Turkey

Libya wakes up from ‘Dubai dream’ to face Somalia-like ‘failed state’

South Yemen separatists vow to intensify secession protests

Relatives of Iraq massacre victims: Blackwater guards should be killed

Ghannouchi makes it clear to Tunisia: It’s either political Islam or Daesh!

Deadly clashes erupt after army raid in northern Lebanon

200 Iraqi Kurd fighters to travel through Turkey to Kobane

Coalition strikes in Syria eliminate more than 500 jihadists in one month

Ahead of elections, new clashes remind Tunisia of need to fight terror

Saudi Arabia jails mothers for preparing sons to wage jihad

Jury finds Blackwater guards guilty of 2007 'massacre' in Iraq

Iraq Kurds approve reinforcements for Kobane

Israel classifies car crash as ‘hit and run terror attack’

Turkish woman arrested for stepping on Koran

Erdogan criticises US for airdrops on Kobane

Iraq schools provide shelter but late to open for classes

Syria air force shoots down two of three 'IS warplanes'

Egypt court rules on ‘Nasr City terror cell’

Fire from Egypt wounds two Israeli soldiers near border

By hook or by crook, settlers notch up property gains in East Jerusalem

Turkey envoy meets leader of parallel government in Libya

Israel arrests seven Palestinian fishermen off northern Gaza

Khamenei to Abadi: Iraq can beat 'Islamic State' without foreign troops

Saudi special court rules in cases of riots and terrorism

Libya army scores small victory in Benghazi

Only in Libya: Government calls for civil disobedience

Kasserine reaps bitter harvest from Tunisia revolution: Poverty and terrorism

Iraq Kurds set to vote on deployment of Peshmerga forces to Syria

Islamic State ‘share in US weapons’ embarrasses Pentagon

Alderton: Morocco unrivalled business gateway to sub-Saharan Africa

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane