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French, German women face court for Tunisia topless protest

Tunisian police arrrest the topless Femen activists on 29 May
Tunisian police arrrest the topless Femen activists on 29 May Reuters/Anis Mili

Two French women and a German went on trial in Tunisia on Wednesday for holding a topless anti-Islamist protest in the capital, Tunis. The members of the “sextremist” group Femen could face six months in jail for “debauchery”.

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Femen members Pauline Hillier and Marguerite Stern from France, and Josephine Markmann from Germany arrived in court wearing the traditional Tunisian headscarf, the safsari.

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Judge Karim Chebbi called a break in the hearing at the end of the morning becasue lawyers representing Islamist groups asked to participate in the trial as civil parties.

"We are asking for a delay to examine the file and prepare our argument," said Anouar Ouled Ali, who has previously defended hardline Salafists prosecuted for acts of violence.

The defence called for the request to be dismissed, and demanded that the activists, who have been in custody for seven days, be released.

French lawyer Patrick Klugman, representing the women, said he was optimistic about the trial, calling it "a good sign" that he had been allowed to speak in court.

A small group of demonstrators earlier abused one of the women’s Tunisian lawyers.

Klugman said the prosecution had decided on a charge of debauchery, which carries a prison sentence of up six months, rather than an attack on public morals.

He said there were no facts or evidence of intent to back up the charge and that the women used their bodies to convey a political message not to seduce anyone.

Femen says that a Ukrainian activist, who had travelled to Tunisia to support the women, was deported on Tuesday, although the authorities have not confirmed the claim.

Several Femen activists stripped to the waste and performed Muslim prayers outside the Tunisian embassy in the French capital in solidarity on Wednesday.

The women on trial in Tunis staged the group's first topless protest in the Arab world outside the city's main courthouse on 29 May.

They were demonstrating in support of Amina Sboui, a Tunisian activist arrested after painting the word "Femen" on a wall near a cemetery in the Muslim spiritual centre of Kairouan, in protest against radical Islamists.

Sboui was due to appear in a closed hearing in Kairouan on Wednesday.

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