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French feminists face Tunis appeals trial delay

Published: 22 Jun 2013 10:11 GMT+02:00

Souhaib Bahri said the judiciary had failed to allow the necessary 10 days to elapse that gave Islamist groups the chance to appeal against the rejection of their request to participate as a civil party at the original trial on June 12th.

"Because the delay only expired today, the judge had no other choice (than to adjourn the trial) to give the associations time to appeal," Bahri said, adding that it was the public prosecutor's fault.

The defence team for the three women, two French and one German, requested that the defendants be released on parole, despite their sentencing on June 12th to four months in jail for indecency and an attack on public morals.

Bahri said he expected the judge to announce his decision on that, and to fix the date for the next appeal hearing later on Friday.

The defendants, appearing in court earlier dressed in the traditional Tunisian veil, or safsari, again defended their actions when given the chance to speak.

"Our objective was not to break Tunisian law or to attack public morals, but just to support Amina," said German activist Josephine Markmann.

The Frenchwomen are Margaret Stern and Pauline Hillier.

The three were arrested on May 29 for staging their controversial demonstration outside the central courthouse in Tunis in support of Amina Sboui, a detained Tunisian  activist from the same radical women's group.

Sboui was arrested for painting the word "Femen" on a wall near a cemetery in the central city Kairouan last month, in protest against a planned gathering of radical Salafists.

She remains in custody while a judge rules on whether she should face charges of indecency and desecrating a cemetery, which respectively carry possible jail terms of six months and two years.

The lawyer for the European women had been hopeful of a verdict being delivered o Friday, on the grounds that the appeals hearing was granted just nine days after their conviction, rather than the normal delay of four to six months.

But lawyers for the Islamist groups blamed "foreign pressures" for the fact that the appeals process had been accelerated, claims the public prosecutor rejected.

"There has been no pressure on the judiciary. We accelerated (the process) to give an example to the foreigners present of the quality and advanced state of the Tunisian judiciary," he said.

The four-month jail terms handed down to the defendants have been criticised in Europe, where the case is seen by some as a test of democratic freedoms under Tunisia's Islamist-led government which came to power after the revolution of January 2011.

France, Germany and the European Union all expressed regret at the severity of the sentences.

But Islamists in the conservative Muslim nation were angered by topless protest, with some calling for the activists to be given harsher sentences.

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