Africa

Tunisia frees Femen topless protest activists

A Femen protester takes part in a demonstration in support of activist Amina Tyler outside a courthouse in Tunisia
Image caption Femen activists demonstrated outside a court in support of Amina Tyler on 29 May

A court in Tunisia has freed three European feminists jailed for staging a topless protest, their lawyer has said.

Bahri Souhaib said their sentences had been suspended, and that they would leave Tunisia as soon as possible.

The members of the activist group Femen - two French and one German - were arrested outside a courtroom in Tunis.

They were sentenced to four months and one day in prison after being convicted of public indecency, in a protest in support of a Tunisian activist.

They were also convicted of offending public morals and threatening public order.

The women - Pauline Hillier, Marguerite Stern and Josephine Markmann - argued that there had been nothing sexual or offensive about their protest, the first of its kind seen in the Arab world.

Instead, they maintained that they were fighting "for the rights of women wherever they are threatened" and had sought to demand the release of fellow activist Amina Tyler, a Tunisian.

"I didn't think it was going to shock Tunisians to that extent. Given the consequences, I would never do it again. We want to return to our country and our loved ones,'' Ms Hillier told the court on Wednesday.

Ms Tyler was detained in May after reportedly writing "Femen" on a wall in the religious centre of Kairouan. She also outraged some Tunisians in March by posting photos online of herself topless with the slogan "My body is my own" written on her torso. She remains in detention, awaiting trial.

Femen describes itself as "fighting patriarchy in its three manifestations - sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion".

Its action in Tunisia is set against the background of tensions following the overthrow of the secular regime of long-serving President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

A moderate Islamist-led government has since won democratic elections. There has also been an increase in the prominence of ultra-conservative Islamists known as Salafists, who want greater public piety in Tunisia.

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