Topless female protesters manhandled after disrupting Islamic conference in France

Two topless Femen activists in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin in 2014. Femen staged the protest on the opening day of the Olympic Games in Sochi to demonstrate against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “dictatorship and oppression of human rights in Russia.” (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)

Members of a feminist protest group known for storming events topless has disrupted an Islamic conference in France and caught what appears to be a bit of a beating in the process.

Femen, founded in Ukraine, doesn’t have a huge reputation stateside. The group, the subject of a 2014 documentary, is known for its advocacy on behalf of Ukranian rape victims and ambushing Russian president Vladimir Putin — news that isn’t always news on the other side of the Atlantic. But the group’s provocative tactic — as the group’s Facebook page puts it: “Our God is a Woman! Our Mission is Protest! Our Weapon are bare breasts!” — keeps the group in the headlines from time to time.

And even right-wing media sites like Breitbart were impressed when two young women, sans shirts, took the stage last weekend at what was billed as a “Muslim salon” in Pontoise, France, a town just outside of Paris. The salon, as Buzzfeed reported, included a conversation about “Women’s valuation in Islam.”

In dramatic video that’s not exactly safe for work, the women take the lectern and start shouting in French: “Nobody enslaves me, nobody owns me, I’m my own prophet.” Messages written on their chests — a Femen trademark — offered similar messages.

“The two activists (both coming from muslim families) [gave voice to] hundreds of women, feminists, and associations, all disgusted by this public hate speeches,” the group wrote on Facebook. “It was our duty to interrupt this enslavement event, and to let a scream of freedom be heard in the middle of their submission lessons.”

The women were quickly escorted offstage. But the escorting seemed to turn into a scuffle as a number of men began kicking the women once they were down.

A reporter for Buzzfeed France present at the event told The Washington Post that, at the time the women took the stage, the imams they interrupted were actually taking a moderate tone.

“These two imams” —Mehdi Kabir and Nader Abu Anas — “have held women in radical speeches in 2013 and 2014,” David Perrotin said. “But the show, it was the opposite. … They [were explaining] ‘why Islam required Muslims to respect women.'”

Yet, Perrotin said that the protest fit into Femen’s anti-religious, anti-authoritarian message. Perrotin pointed out that they staged a similar protest at Notre Dame last year.

“It’s the logical fight of Femen,” Perrotin said. “They protest against all forms of misogyny … although some opponents accuse them of Islamophobia.”

Perrotin also said the use of force was unquestionable.

“Yes, it was pretty violent,” he said. “… I saw a Femen beaten by a man who did not belong to security.”

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The mission of the "FEMEN" movement is to create the most favourable conditions for the young women to join up into a social group with the general idea of the mutual support and social responsibility, helping to reveal the talents of each member of the movement.

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