TUNIS: Three European women with radical activist group Femen, who were arrested after getting topless in Tunis, will be tried next week for public indecency and could be jailed, their lawyer said yesterday.
“They will appear in court in Tunis on June 5... The trial will be an open hearing,” Souheib Bahri told AFP, information confirmed by French consular officials in Tunis.
They will be tried for “public indecency” and an “attack on public morals,” crimes both punishable by six months in jail in socially conservative Tunisia, where the coalition government is headed by a conservative party.
They risk another 15 days in detention for offences against the Tunisian authorities.
The three young women were identified by the Femen movement in Paris as Pauline Hillier and Marguerite Stern, both French, and Josephine Markmann from Germany.
They were arrested on Wednesday as they held a topless protest outside the central courthouse in Tunis, the first such protest organised by radical feminist group in the Arab world.
Their demonstration was held to demand the release of Amina Sboui, an 18-year-old Tunisian activist with their group who was detained earlier this month after protesting against Tunisia’s main Salafist group and painting the word “Femen” on a wall near a cemetery in Kairouan.
The ruling party had planned to hold the annual congress in the historic city south of Tunis, which is considered the country’s religious capital, despite a government ban.
Sboui, better known by her pseudonym Tyler, went on trial on Wednesday for illegal possession of pepper spray, for which she received a fine, amid tensions outside the court, where dozens of angry protesters demonstrated against the topless protests.
The judge ordered that she be remanded in custody, to face separate charges next week of indecency and desecrating a cemetery, crimes punishable respectively by six months and two years in jail.
But he left the door open for heavier sentences, referring to the “criminal conspiracy” section of the penal code and indicating that she could be accused of acting as part of an organized gang.
Sboui sparked a scandal in March — and also a wave of international support — after posting topless pictures of herself on Facebook, drawing threats from hardliners.
Her mother, whom the young woman accused of holding her in captivity, later described her daughter as someone who suffers from chronic depression.
Tunisia has the most liberal laws in the Arab world on women’s rights, but opposition parties and feminist groups have frequently accused the ruling party Ennahda of seeking to roll them back.
Sboui’s trial has reflected the bristling tensions over the issue.