Two separate trials were scheduled to continue today regarding the actions of women associated with the Femen activist group, while a leader of the organization was reportedly arrested in Tunis and deported to the Ukraine.
In Kairouan, the trial of Amina Sboui, the first Tunisian to post topless pictures of herself online as part of the Femen movement, is continuing today. She was arrested in that city on May 19 after painting the word “Femen” on the wall of a cemetery near the historic al-Okba mosque. She was convicted May 30 of possessing an illegal gas spray and was fined 300 dinars (182 US dollars). Now, she faces more serious charges of offending public decency, forming an accord with Femen, and desecrating a cemetery.
Meanwhile, three European Femen activists went before a court at the Palace of Justice in Tunis today after holding a topless protest in front of the same building on May 29 in support of Sboui. Two French women, known as Pauline and Marguerite, as well as a German named Josephine, face charges of offending public decency and threatening pubic order. The trial started at 10:00 am and was adjourned after shortly over an hour. Lawyers present at the trail included Souhaieb Bahri, a Tunisian representing the activists, as well as Ivan Terel and Patrick Klugman, foreign lawyers not participating in the trial but showing their support for the protesters.
It is unclear whether the trial would continue today and when a verdict could be expected, according to Mischa Benoit-Lavelle, a journalist covering the trial.
Femen also reported on its official Facebook page today that Aleksandra Shevchenko, a founder of the organization, was arrested at 1:30 pm yesterday at the Pasha Hotel in Tunis and deported to the Ukraine. Femen asserted that this was an illegal procedure.
A group of Femen activists, reportedly led by the Egyptian blogger Alia Elmahdy, also protested today in front of the Tunisian embassy in France, according to the Femen Facebook page. The women held what they called a “topless prayer” to protest the arrests and trials in Tunisia, with slogans such as “Amina Akbar” written on their backs.
Yesterday, the international human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International issued a press release criticizing the arrest of Amina and calling for her release.
“Amina should be released from custody right away. She is being investigated for exercising her right to freedom of expression, and she should not be facing imprisonment for doing so,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International was quoted as saying in the statement.
“A prison sentence for such conduct, even if some might regard it as offensive, would be inherently disproportionate and incompatible with Tunisia’s international human rights obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression,” she added.
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed Claude Klugman as the activists’ lawyer. The correct name is Patrick Klugman.