FRANCE

Paris court clears feminist activists over topless stunt at Arc de Triomphe

Activists of feminist group Femen demonstrate at the Place de la Concorde in Paris on International Women's Day, 8 March 2020.
Activists of feminist group Femen demonstrate at the Place de la Concorde in Paris on International Women's Day, 8 March 2020. Martin BUREAU / AFP

A French appeals court on Wednesday overturned sexual exhibitionism convictions for two members of feminist group Femen relating to a protest at a World War One memorial at the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris on the eve of the centenary of the armistice in November 2018.

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The Paris Court of Appeal ruled the defendants’ convictions constituted “a disproportionate infringement on freedom of expression”, in the words of the presiding judge.

The defendants, two students without previous legal records,  faced charges relating to a protest in which they revealed upper bodies painted with slogans during a short demonstration at the Arc de Triomphe.

They were convicted of sexual exhibition in May 2019 and each handed suspended fines of 1,000 euros. Their lawyer welcomed the appeal court’s decision to overturn the conviction.

“The prosecutor’s office must now clearly understand that Femen activists commit no offence during their demonstrations,” said defence lawyer Valentine Rebérioux, for whom charges of sexual exhibition “are incompreshensible and incredibly exaggerated for feminist activists”.

Femen activists are known for public demonstrations in which they bear their breasts as a political act to denounce gender inequality, prostitution, dictatorship, homophobia and more.

Their actions often land them in French courts, facing and mostly being cleared of laws stipulating that showing a half-nude or nude body in public is a deliberate act of sexual exhibition.

Protests around WWI commemorations

On the eve of centenary commemorations of the end of World War One in November 2018, for which more than 70 heads of state were invited to Paris, the defendants yelled “welcome war criminals”, revealing upper bodies painted with slogans including “fake peacemakers” and “real dictators” at the monument.

Femen said they were protesting “the hypocrisy” of holding a “surrealist ceremony for peace” gathering leaders the group deemed to be responsible for conflicts around the world.

The day of the ceremony, three other activists breached a security barrier at the Champs-Elysées Avenue during the passage of the limousine of then-US President Donald Trump.

The three activists also faced exhibitionism charges, which were dropped in a previous court decision. Prosecuters have appealed the ruling.

In February 2020, France’s highest court cleared former Femen member Iana Zhdanova of charges relating to an incident in which, topless, she stabbed a statue of Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Paris’s Grévin wax museum.

(with newswires)

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