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Tunisia: Trial of topless activists may delay

12 June 2013, 16:18

Tunis - The lawyers of three European women arrested and held in custody in Tunis for holding a topless anti-Islamist protest said on Wednesday that they feared a fresh adjournment of their trial.

The judge is due to decide on whether to allow several Islamist groups angered by the controversial protest to take part in the trial as a civil party, according to Souheib Bahri.

"If he accepts [their demand], it is likely that the hearing will be delayed for the procedures of including a civil party. If he refuses, the defence must be heard," the Tunisian lawyer said.

The trial, which was due to start at 09:30 GMT, had already been put off for a week and the three women denied bail, at the first hearing last Wednesday.

The three members of the radical women's protest group Femen - two of them French and one German -- risk six months in prison for baring their breasts in socially conservative Tunisia, whose coalition government is headed by a moderate Islamist party.

Their French lawyers said they had not made the trip to Tunis for Wednesday's trial because they claimed the "rights of the defence are not guaranteed".

"We are waiting for the clear and unconditional release of our three clients" on Wednesday, Patrick Klugman and Yvan Terel told AFP.

They underlined that if the activists were not freed, they would come "immediately to Tunis to step up international mobilisation [in support of the women] especially ahead of the arrival of Francois Hollande", the French president who is due to visit in early July.

The women were arrested on May 29 after staging a topless demonstration outside the main courthouse in Tunis in support of Amina Sboui, a Tunisian activist with the same "sextremist" group who had been arrested 10 days earlier.

Sboui had been arrested for painting the word "Femen" on a wall near a cemetery in city of Kairouan last month.

The Tunisian activist, who sparked a scandal in March by posting topless pictures of herself on Facebook, defying Arab-Muslim convention, faces possible charges of indecency and desecrating a cemetery.



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