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Paris topless activists cleared of damaging Notre Dame bells

Fred Dufour, AFP | Femen members celebrate legal victory at Paris court, September 2014.

French judges on Wednesday threw out a case against nine women who staged a topless protest in the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris last year, but gave suspended fines to church security guards for manhandling the activists.

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The women had been accused of damaging centuries-old bells that were on display for the 850th anniversary of the famous Paris landmark, but the court said there was not enough proof that they were responsible for damages.

The nine members of the Femen activist group entered the Gothic cathedral on February 12, 2013, wearing long coats. Once inside they flashed their breasts and screamed slogans in protest at the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage.

They also staged a mock celebration of Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation, yelling “Pope no more!” and “Homophobe, out!”, while ringing the big bells with bits of wood.

The women were then forcibly removed by guards before hundreds of bemused and outraged tourists.

The prosecutor requested fines of 1,500 euros against each activist for charges of damaging property, but the women denied they had caused any harm, having taken the precaution of covering their sticks with felt.

In the case pitting arguments for freedom of speech against those for freedom of religion, judges ruled that three guards at the cathedral had used excessive force when evicting the protesters from the premises.

They were given suspended fines of between €300 to €1,000.

In November 2012, four months before the stunt at Notre Dame, Femen activists disguised as nuns were kicked and pepper-sprayed by protesters after crashing an anti-gay marriage march.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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