TUNIS: Three European women with the radical protest group Femen, jailed in Tunisia for baring their breasts, apologised at their appeals trial on Wednesday and promised not to repeat the protest.
“I regret this act and I apologise,” Josephine Markmann, the German member of the group, told the judge, who said Muslim law prohibited such acts.
“We didn’t expect to shock Tunisians to this extent. It is out of the question that we would do it again,” said Pauline Hillier, one of the two French women also appealing a four-month prison sentence for their demonstration last month in support of a fellow Tunisian activist.
The three women appeared at the court of appeal in Tunis dressed in the traditional Tunisian veil, or safsari.
Lawyers for a number of Islamist groups angered by the protest, who are seeking to participate in the trial as a civil party, asked for another delay to the appeal to allow them to consult the file.
But the judge rejected the request and ordered them to argue their case.
One of the lawyers, Seifeddine Makhouf, demanded a “symbolic dinar for injury,” and condemned the “exceptional pressures on the prosecutor to arrange the hearing in the shortest time possible.”
French defence lawyer Patrick Klugman said “the (Islamist) associations have had ample opportunity to study the file; it is part of their strategy to prevent the case from ever being resolved.”
Like other lawyers defending the women, he argued their was nothing sexual about their protest.
“You cannot pervert the message of Femen. Their breasts were visible to the public but they were carrying a message you can’t ignore. Stop looking at their breasts… and listen to them,” Klugman told the court.
He added that the women believed they would be safe staging their protest “in a country that has just risen up for freedom.”
The two-hour hearing was adjourned at 1200 GMT and the judge was expected to announce his verdict later in the day.
The three were arrested outside the main courthouse in Tunis on May 29 during their topless protest in support of Amina Sboui, a detained Tunisian activist with the same “sextremist” group. They were jailed for four months on June 12 for indecency and an attack on public morals.
Before Wednesday’s hearing, one of their lawyers told AFP the defence would reject any new delays to the appeals trial, which has already been put back once, and hoped to see the women freed by the end of the week.
The four-month jail sentences handed down to the defendants have been criticised as harsh by international rights groups and European countries.
On the eve of the appeal hearing, three topless feminist activists in Brussels jumped on visiting Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh’s car, demanding their jailed comrades in the North African country be released.
Also on Wednesday, radical Salafists gathered outside the main courthouse in Tunis to protest against hardline youths being prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws.