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European women go on trial for topless Tunis protest

Publication Date: 
June 7, 2013

Three European women went on trial in Tunis on Wednesday for holding a topless anti-Islamic protest, and their French lawyer said he was confident they would escape prison despite the threat of jail sentences.

 Pauline Hillier and Marguerite Stern from France, and Josephine Markmann from Germany arrived in court around 0930 GMT wearing the traditional Tunisian headscarf, or safsari.

Judge Karim Chebbi called for a break in the hearing at the end of the morning, after lawyers representing Islamist groups angered by the topless protest asked to participate in the trial as civil parties.

"We are asking for a delay to examine the file and prepare our argument," said Anouar Ouled Ali, who has previously defended hardline Salafists prosecuted for acts of violence.

The defence called for the request to be dismissed, and demanded that the activists, who have been held in custody since last Wednesday, be released.

The judge is expected to decide in the afternoon and could call for a new adjournment.

Earlier in the day, a few dozen people gathered outside the courthouse and shouted abuse at one of the women's Tunisian lawyers.

"How can you defend those women?" one of the people shouted. "You are not Tunisian; you are not Muslim; you don't have a wife or daughter."

Patrick Klugman, who came to Tunis to represent the activists from the radical women's group Femen, said he was optimistic about the trial, calling it "a good sign" that he had been allowed to speak in court.

Klugman said the prosecution had decided on a charge of debauchery rather than an attack on public morals, adding that there were no material facts or evidence of intent to back up the charge.

"Their bodies were not exhibited to seduce but to convey a political message... which is different than debauchery," he told AFP.

But the women still face a possible six-month prison sentenced if convicted.

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