Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Tunisia jails topless activists

Spanish activists of Femen shout for the release of fellow activists, who are imprisoned in Tunisia (AP)
Spanish activists of Femen shout for the release of fellow activists, who are imprisoned in Tunisia (AP)

A Tunisian court has convicted three European feminist activists who staged a topless courthouse protest last month, sentencing them to four months and a day in prison, a court official said.

The two French and a German member of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen maintained during the trial that there was nothing sexual or offensive about their protest and that it was only to support their imprisoned Tunisian colleague.

They were charged with public indecency, offending public morals and threatening public order for the May 29 protest. Court registrar Habib Derbal did not specify which charges they were sentenced for.

The protest was the first of its kind in the Middle East for Femen, which has used nudity to push for greater rights for women across Europe. During the trial, the women wore traditional white Tunisian cloaks.

Defence lawyer Souhabi Bahri expressed shock, questioning why trials against suspects in more serious crimes seem to result in lighter sentences.

On May 28, a Tunisian court gave 20 suspects in a September 14 mob attack on the US embassy suspended sentences, prompting the US to respond that it was "deeply troubled" by the decision. Four demonstrators died in the attack sparked by anger over an American film considered insulting to Islam.

An Islamist lawyer, who was part of a group of religious associations that had attempted to join the case as aggrieved parties, expressed satisfaction at the verdict.

"This was the least penalty that could have been given to the three defendants," said Anwar Ouled Ali. "I hope this is a lesson to Femen and anyone else who seeks to attack the values of Islam."

The Femen activists were calling for the release of Sboui, a Tunisian member of Femen who scandalised the country by posting topless photos of herself in a women's rights protest in March. She later attempted another protest on May 19 in the religious centre of Kairouan.

She has already been convicted of carrying pepper spray and fined. An investigating judge in Kairouan is considering further charges.

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