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Women's Acquittal Upheld in Topless Protest at Notre Dame

Activists of Ukrainian women's rights group Femen leave the Paris courthouse, Oct. 29, 2015, after they were acquitted in appeal over a topless demonstration they staged inside Notre-Dame Cathedral in February 2013.

The acquittal of eight women from the activist group Femen over a topless protest they held in Paris's Notre Dame cathedral two years ago was upheld by a French court of appeals on Thursday.

The feminist activists mixed with hordes of queuing visitors to enter the 12th century church unspotted in 2013 — one day after Pope Benedict resigned — before bearing torsos painted with slogans such as "Pope No More" and "Get lost, homophobe."

The case against the Femen women, some of whom were smacked in the face by angry Catholics before security staff bundled them out of the church, had been pursued on the grounds that they degraded a place of worship, in a protest during which they tapped on the cathedral's bells with wooden sticks.

Free speech

"In this affair, the real victims were the activists who were assaulted by Notre Dame security staff," one of the women, Elvire Charles, told reporters. "We were just exercising our right to free speech."

The Paris court also confirmed suspended fines imposed on two members of the Notre Dame security staff and acquitted another one.

Nine Femen women taking part in the protest were acquitted by a French court in September 2014. One of them has died since the first court decision.

Notre Dame, standing on an island in the middle of the Seine river in the heart of Paris, is visited by millions of tourists and religious devotees every year. It was being fitted with new giant bells at the time to celebrate its 850th anniversary.