Tunisia sentences Femen topless activists to prison
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Three Europeans were sentenced to four months in prison Wednesday for staging a topless protest to support a jailed Tunisian Femen activist. The two French citizens and one German national were charged with indecency and attacking public morals.
Two French and one German activist charged with indecency and attacking public morals for a topless May 29 protest in support of a jailed Tunisian Femen activist have been sentenced to four months in prison, a lawyer for the women said Wednesday.
"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 told AFP.
A statement from the French foreign ministry said that it "regretted the severity of the sentences".
The judge opened the hearing by questioning the women, two French and one German, on the reasons and circumstances of their May 29 bare-breasted protest, a first in the Arab world.
"I came on May 28 to stage a political demonstration and support Amina [Sboui, a detained Tunisian activist]. We made our plan on the Internet and came from Paris," said Josephine Markmann, one of the three accused.
"Baring our breasts is not intended to cause sexual excitement but is a form of activism," said Marguerite Stern, one of the French women.
The German activist said: "I relish every opportunity to express my political views."
Lawyers for a number of Islamist associations, demanding to take part in the trial as a civil party, condemned the Femen protest in the socially conservative country governed by an Islamist-led coalition.
"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.
Monaam Turki said their controversial act could be considered an attack on state security "under article 71 of the penal code, which carries a one-year prison sentence."
Another lawyer cited an Arab proverb, saying: "A free woman prefers to go hungry than to eat thanks to her breasts."
Judge Karim Chebbi suspended the hearing and indicated his verdict would be made public later on Wednesday. "The case can be settled, and the hearing is suspended for deliberation," he said.
The women's lawyers had said that the trial, which has already been put back for a week and the three women denied bail at the first hearing last Wednesday, could be delayed again if the judge decided to recognise the Islamist groups as a civil party.
Three other members of Femen staged a topless protest outside the Tunisian embassy in Madrid on Wednesday to demand the release of their fellow activists.
The case is being closely watched by activists and politicians in Europe, with Femen having also held protests in support of their arrested comrades outside the European Parliament in Brussels, the German chancellor's office and the Tunisian embassy in Paris.
Their French lawyers said they had not made the trip to Tunis for Wednesday's trial because they claimed the "rights of the defence are not guaranteed".
"We are waiting for the clear and unconditional release of our three clients," Patrick Klugman and Yvan Terel told AFP.
They underlined that if the activists were not freed on Wednesday, they would come "immediately to Tunis" to mobilise international support for the women, especially ahead of the expected visit by French President Francois Hollande in early July.
The women were arrested on May 29 after staging a topless demonstration outside the main courthouse in Tunis in support of Amina Sboui, a Tunisian activist with the same "sextremist" group who had been arrested 10 days earlier.
Sboui had been arrested for painting the word "Femen" on a wall near a cemetery in city of Kairouan last month, in an act of 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 posting topless pictures of herself on Facebook, defying Arab-Muslim convention, faces possible charges of indecency and desecrating a cemetery.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)