Tunisian Femen activist fined, remains jailed

KAIROUAN, Tunisia (AP) — A court convicted the Tunisian member of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen Tuesday for carrying an “incendiary object” and fined her $182. She remains in custody pending more serious charges.

Amina Sboui, who scandalized the country for posting topless photos of herself as part of women’s rights protest, attempted to carry out a new protest on May 19 in the religious center of Kairouan. She was arrested and charged with carrying a canister of pepper spray.

Prosecutors on Thursday, however, said they are considering bringing more serious charges against her, including desecrating a cemetery and offending public decency, according to defense lawyer Mokhtar Jannene.

Sboui will appear in court again June 5.

Outside the court, about 200 protesters, many religious conservatives, chanted slogans against Sboui, accusing her of attacking the city and insulting Islam. They also shouted insults at the defense lawyers and accused them of “sullying” the image of the city, a center for religious pilgrimage and home of Tunisia’s holiest mosque.

Sboui came to national attention when she posted online photos of herself topless with the slogan “my body is my own” written on her torso.

She went into hiding because of death threats but re-emerged in Kairouan, where she allegedly scrawled “Femen” on a cemetery wall near the city’s main mosque. Sboui was detained by police as an angry mob gathered around her. On the same day, police stopped a group of ultraconservative Muslims from holding their annual conference, resulting in clashes and tear gas — heightening the tensions over the Sboui case.

In court, her lawyers argued that the 1894 statute on “incendiary objects” should not apply to her can of pepper spray.

She told the judge that she had been given the pepper spray by a foreign journalist for her own protection and had been carrying it for the last two months.

The other two charges, if brought forward, carry longer sentences of up to two years in prison.

Sboui’s father was present in court and expressed his support for his daughter.

“I am proud of my daughter who has honored the rights of women,” Mounir Sboui told The Associated Press. “Maybe her acts were rash, but this is her way of expressing these ideas.”

The case is the latest flashpoint in the battle over Tunisia’s identity after the overthrow of the secular authoritarian government in January 2011 saw the rise of ultraconservative Islamists known as salafis pushing for greater piety.

The case attracted attention in Europe and three members of Femen, two French and a German, demonstrated topless in front of Tunis’ court building Wednesday, calling for Sboui’s release. They were arrested and remain in custody. They are set to appear before a judge on Friday, when they may be charged.

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