Three European, female activists who protested topless outside the Tunisian Palace of Justice have been sentenced to four months in prison in Tunisia. The two French women and one German are members of the controversial Femen protest group and were charged with indecency.
“The three Femen protesters are shocked by this sentence. The judge has given them each four months in prison for violating decency and modesty,” said their Tunisian lawyer Souhaib Bohri.
The prison sentence was seen as harsh by many who thought that the women would be acquitted or fined and deported from the country. This sentence also comes only two weeks after the twenty Tunisians accused of attacking the American Embassy in Tunis last year, setting fire to cars and damaging property, were given a suspended sentence. The three Femen activists will appeal and it is unclear as yet if they will have to serve the full sentence.
The Femen France Facebook page was quick to provide a statement in response to the verdict, 'with this decision the Tunisian powers have shown us their own theocratic savagery and demonstrated to the whole world their neglect of international democratic conventions... the women's movement Femen will not leave its activists to rot in prison, it calls on the world to stand up for the brave freedom fighters!'
Pauline Hillier and Marguerite Stern from France and Josephine Markmann from Germany were taken to the same courthouse, that they protested outside, this morning. They stood together in court dressed in 'safsari' a traditional, pale yellow robe worn by women appearing in front of a judge. Behind them the court was packed with journalists, lawyers, members of the public and the mother of one of the women.
Stern, one of the French protesters, defended her actions. “Showing our breasts is not a sexual act. It is a type of activism,” she told the judge. However the prosecution were defiant. “In Islam we respect our mothers, our sisters, our wives. Islam respects women and their physical dignity. Public nudity is forbidden. We reject the actions of Femen,” said Slah Barkati, one of the prosecution lawyers.“ Leila Ben Debba, another lawyer pleading the case for the defence, argued ”What these women did may not have been acceptable but it was courageous.“ The Judge, Karim Chebbi, suspended the hearing for deliberation and the verdict was returned this evening.
The women first appeared in court last Wednesday when two French lawyers also flew in to assist with the case. However the trial was adjourned and the women were denied bail. The French lawyers did not return for the hearing today but said last week that they would fly back immediately if the women were not released. The case has also been attracting international attention with three other members of Femen protesting topless today outside the Tunisian Embassy in Madrid in defence of the three women.
The women were arrested and detained on the 29th May after protesting topless in support of Amina Tyler, a Tunisian Femen activist who was arrested last month for spraying grafitti on a wall close to a cemetery. Amina also caused a huge scandal in Tunisia, which is predominantly Muslim, back in March when she posed topless with the message ”f*ck your morals“ written on her chest and posted the photo on a Tunisian Femen Facebook page. She is still awaiting trial and faces charges of indecency and desecrating a cemetery.