FEMEN Activists Freed from Tunisian Jail
Three feminists with the radical protest group FEMEN were freed from a Tunisian jail Wednesday, after receiving suspended sentences from an appeal court for baring their breasts in public.
One of their lawyers Bahri Souhaib said, their sentences had been suspended, and that they would leave Tunisia as soon as possible. They were sentenced to four months and one day in prison for offending public morals and threatening public order.
The three were arrested outside the main courthouse in Tunis on May 29 during their topless protest against a planned gathering of radical Salafists, and in support of Amina Sboui, a detained Tunisian feminist for posting topless photos of herself online, with the slogan “My body is my own” written on her torso. She remains in detention, awaiting trial.
The women – Pauline Hillier, Marguerite Stern and Josephine Markmann – argued that they were fighting “for the rights of women wherever they are threatened”. They added, there had been nothing sexual or offensive about their protest, the first of its kind seen in the Arab world.
One of the activists Pauline Hillier told the court:
“I didn’t think it was going to shock Tunisians to that extent. Given the consequences, I would never do it again. We want to return to our country and our loved ones.”
Another one of their lawyers Patrick Klugman accused the Islamists in Tunisian justice system of trying to prevent the case from ever being resolved, and argued that there was nothing sexual about the women’s protest. He said:
“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. The women believed they would be safe staging their protest in a country that has just risen up for freedom.”
The lawyers said they were still concerned that Sboui remained in detention. “We aren’t forgetting her and we will not let her languish.”
Femen describes itself as “fighting patriarchy in its three manifestations – sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion”. The organization released a statement about the release of the activists, saying:
“FEMEN activists Marguerite, Pauline and Josephine are free! Our pressure broke the Islamists, our boobs have been stronger than their stones!”
The organization’s action in Tunisia is set against the background of tensions following the overthrow of the secular regime of long-serving President Zine Ben Ali in 2011, and an Islamist-led government has since won the elections. There has also been an increase in the prominence of ultra-conservative Islamists known as Salafists.