19 year-old Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Tyler has stood trial today at a primary court in Kairouan, 184km from the capital Tunis. The young member of the “sextrimist” Ukrainian group was arrested on 19 May, after she graffitied the word FEMEN on a cemetery wall in Kairouan, protesting at Ansar al-Sharia’s vows to hold their annual congress there. Eventually the meeting did not take place, when security forces enacted a government ban citing threats “to public order and security”.
Amina could spend up to six months in prison over the “non-authorized” possession of pepper spray. At today’s court hearing, Amina’s lawyers said that their client’s possession of the pepper spray is for “self-defence” purposes. This is understandable, since the young woman had received death threats after she posted topless pictures of herself on Facebook last March.
Amina’s imprisonment is unfair and represents another proof of Tunisia’s double standard justice. On 22 May, Tunisian authorities released Seifeddine Raïes spokesman of Ansar al-Sharia, a group which demands the implementation of Islamic law in Tunisia. Raies still faces charges of “incitement to violence” and “distribution of false information” over a press conference in which he defied a government ban preventing his radical Islamist movement from holding their annual congress in Kairouan. News website Kapitalis, reported [fr] that an investigative judge decided to release Raies on the grounds that “his declarations do not surpass the [mere] expression of an opinion”. But, doesn’t Amina’s protest action of tagging “FEMEN” on a low wall also represent a nonviolent form of expression? So she could have been prosecuted without being thrown in jail. On May, 24 Collective blog Nawaat reported [fr] that Amina’s lawyers described the trial of their client as a “political decision” only made to “appease tensions and contain the outrage of Kairouan residents”, who were unhappy about Amina’s visit to their city.
Under the rule of the Islamist led government, justice in Tunisia has on several occasions faced accusations of impunity and passivity in dealing with religious extremists. Only yesterday [29 May], the US embassy in Tunisia said it was “deeply troubled” at sentences handed over to 20 persons convicted of attacking the embassy last September in protest at the anti-Islam trailer of the film the Innocence of Muslims, published on Youtube. On the other hand, family members and the political party of the opposition leader Chokri Belaid murdered outside his home on 6 February, have also expressed their frustration at a slow pace of investigation.
I do not agree with FEMEN’s neocolonial and racist feminism [and I will explain my position in another post later on]. However, for me speaking out against Amina’s unfair imprisonment is speaking for the rule of law in my country.