News / Middle East

Tunisian Activist Acquitted Amid Growing Unrest

Detained Tunisian member of the Ukrainian women’s group Femen, Amina Sboui, sits at the Msaken court, where she faces a new set of charges of insulting and defaming state employees, July, 22; 2013.
Detained Tunisian member of the Ukrainian women’s group Femen, Amina Sboui, sits at the Msaken court, where she faces a new set of charges of insulting and defaming state employees, July, 22; 2013.
Lisa Bryant
A Tunisian court on Monday partially acquitted a Femen activist, while in broader unrest, the army sealed off a square in Tunis where rival protesters have clashed following last week's assassination for a secular politician.

Activist Amina Sboui was acquitted of contempt and defamation charges, for having complained that inmates in the Tunisian prison where she is being held had been tortured. But the young woman, a member of the breast-baring Femen movement, remains jailed on separate charges for scrawling graffiti on a cemetery wall.

While her lawyer called Sboui's partial acquittal a 'victory,' Inna Shevchenko from Femen's Paris headquarters, said it's only a first step. "It doesn't mean Amina is free, or it doesn't mean anything that can be connected to Amina's freedom because she is still charged for the main thing for what she was arrested - profanation of a cemetery and an immoral act," Shevchenko stated.

Sboui's graffiti targeted a hardline Salafist movement -- underscoring wider tensions between secular and religious Tunisians. Those tensions came into sharp focus with last week's killing of secular politician Mohamed Brahmi.

Brahmi's killing sparked nationwide protests and violent clashes that continued on Monday. The army sealed off a main square in the capital Tunis. In the powder-keg central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Authorities believe the same gun was used in the killing of both Brahmi and another secular politician, Chokri Belaid, earlier this year. They say the suspected assailant, Boukabr Hakim, is a jihadist, who was born in France and grew up in northeastern Paris.

Sboui and her Femen colleagues have also attracted attention in Tunisia.  Three European Femen members spent a month in a Tunis jail after they stripped off their shirts to protest her incarceration. They were later freed and sent home.

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