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Tunisian court sets free Femen activists

4 min

Three European women who were sentenced to four months in jail for staging a topless protest in support of a detained Tunisian Femen activist have arrived in Paris after being freed a day earlier by a Tunisian court, French media has reported.


The three European women with the radical protest group Femen who were freed by a Tunisian court on Wednesday after nearly a month in prison for baring their breasts in public arrived in Paris on Thursday, Agence France Presse reported.

The women, two French and one German, were welcomed at Paris’s Orly airport by the head of Femen’s French branch, Inna Shevchenko, as well as their lawyer, Patrick Klugman. The women immediately departed in a taxi without speaking to the press.

On Wednesday, a Tunisian court freed the women after handing them suspended sentences for baring their breasts in public.

This came after the trio apologised at their appeals hearing and promised not to repeat the protest.

"The verdict has been delivered. It was a suspended sentence of four months and one day. They are going to be freed in a few hours," Bahri said.

The lawyer did not say how soon the young women – two French and one German – would return to their countries.

"It is a great joy to have spoken for the freedom of Femen in Tunisia and to have been heard," the defendants' two French lawyers Patrick Klugman and Ivan Terel told AFP.

German Josephine Markmann earlier said to the judge, who had told her Muslim law prohibited such behaviour: "I regret this act and I apologise."

"We didn't expect to shock Tunisians to this extent. It is out of the question that we would do it again," said Pauline Hillier, one of the two French women also appealing a four-month prison sentence for their demonstration last month in support of a fellow Tunisian activist.

The head of the Femen movement in Paris, Inna Shevchenko, admitted the apologies were an "unexpected turnaround of the situation," but said she had "suspicions that the activists have suffered enormous psychological pressures."

The three women had appeared at the court of appeal in Tunis dressed in the traditional Tunisian veil, or safsari.

Lawyers for a number of Islamist groups angered by the protest, who were seeking to participate in the trial as a civil party, criticised the short time it took to organise the appeal hearing and asked for another delay, which the judge refused.

One of them, Seifeddine Makhouf, denounced the "exceptional pressures on the prosecutor to arrange the hearing in the shortest time possible."

But Klugman accused the Islamists of trying to prevent the case from ever being resolved, and argued that there was nothing sexual about the women's protest.

"You cannot pervert the message of Femen. Their breasts were visible to the public but they were carrying a message you can't ignore. Stop looking at their breasts... and listen to them," Klugman told the court.

He added that the women believed they would be safe staging their protest "in a country that has just risen up for freedom."

The three were arrested outside the main courthouse in Tunis on May 29 during their topless protest in support of Amina Sboui, a detained Tunisian activist with the same "sextremist" group.

They were jailed on June 12 for indecency and an attack on public morals, sentences criticised as harsh by international rights groups and European countries.

Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh indicated, in an interview with Belgian newspaper Le Soir during a trip to Brussels, that the activists would be freed.

"If the Tunisian judiciary does not release them, we should do so. The president of the republic has the right to pardon," Larayedh said.

On the eve of the appeal hearing, three topless feminist activists in Brussels jumped on his car, demanding that their jailed comrades in the North African country be released.

Sboui, whose release the topless demonstrators were calling for, was arrested for painting the word "Femen" on a wall near a cemetery in the central city of Kairouan last month, in protest against a planned gathering of Salafists.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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