Tunisia expels 3 Femen activists as others tried

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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Three members of a radical Ukrainian feminist group were expelled from Tunisia on suspicion they were planning a topless protest in front of the court where their colleagues were being tried on charges of public indecency for an earlier protest, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

The statement on the ministry’s Facebook page said solid information led to one Ukrainian being rousted from her hotel room and taken to the country’s main international airport Tuesday, while a Belarusian was stopped at the airport the same day. Another Ukrainian was also turned back Wednesday at the airport.

Three fellow activists from the group Femen are on trial for public indecency after demonstrating topless in front of Tunisia’s Palace of Justice, calling for the release of a Tunisian member of the group.

The trial began Wednesday with lawyers representing several Islamist groups petitioning to delay the trial so they could join as plaintiffs. The judge adjourned the session and said he would make his decision on June 12.

The activists, two French women and one German, appeared topless May 29 in the group’s first ever seminude protest in the Middle East and have been charged with public indecency and being a threat to public order.

Draped in traditional white Tunisian cloaks, the women appeared Wednesday in the same court they had demonstrated in front of. Outside, dozens protested against them.

Witnesses said one European woman held a sign supporting Femen, but immediately drew the ire of the crowd and was hustled away by police.

Under the Tunisian legal system, outside groups can join a trial as “injured parties,” become privy to the case files and sue for damages. The addition of new plaintiffs would likely increase the duration of the trial.

The activists were calling for the release of Amina Sboui, a Tunisian member of Femen who scandalized the country by posting topless photos of herself protesting for women’s rights in March. She later attempted another protest May 19 in the religious center of Kairouan, where she was arrested.

On Wednesday, she appeared before an investigating judge in Kairouan who is considering the charges of public indecency, desecrating a cemetery and belonging to a band of malefactors seeking to damage public property. She has already been convicted of carrying pepper spray and assessed a small fine.

Her lawyer, Radhia Nasraoui, said the judge will decide on the charges in the coming days.

In Paris, Femen activists protested nude in front of the Tunisian Embassy, mimicking the Muslim prayer in the street. In Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Wednesday that Chancellor Angela Merkel would likely raise questions of human rights and the rule of law during her meeting Friday with the Tunisian prime minister. He did not say if the case of the 19-year-old German on trial would be discussed.

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Associated Press reporter Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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