Tunisian FEMEN activist must be released

A 19-year-old Tunisian activist for the FEMEN network is facing further accusations after having been convicted and fined on Thursday for the possession of a self-defence spray.Amina Sboui – who has also been known as Amina Tyler – was remanded in custody yesterday on accusations of desecrating a cemetery, belonging to a criminal organization and undermining public morals, offences which carry punishments of several years’ imprisonment under the Tunisian Penal Code.The charges she faces appear to stem from her having written the word “FEMEN” on a wall surrounding a cemetery in Kairouan on 19 May, the day when Ansar al Charia, a Salafist group that opposes equality for women, had called a rally for its supporters in the city.Amina Sboui was arrested outside the cemetery and charged with possession of a self-defence spray – for which she was convicted and fined 300 Tunisian dinars (about US$184).She is due to be interrogated by the investigative judge on 5 June for the new accusations.”Amina should be released from custody right away. She is being investigated for exercising her right to freedom of expression, and she should not be facing imprisonment for doing so,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.”A prison sentence for such conduct, even if some might regard it as offensive, would be inherently disproportionate and incompatible with Tunisia’s international human rights obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression.””The charges appear to be politically motivated and targeting her for her activism on women’s rights. One wonders how such accusations can be made against Amina, in a country where several Sufi shrines have been damaged but little action taken by the authorities.”Accusing her of belonging to a criminal organization is also extremely worrying, since under Ben Ali such charges were used to crack down on peaceful political opponents. And we have increasingly seen authorities abusing the charge of undermining public morals to punish, bloggers, critics, artists and journalists for peaceful expression. “Amina Sboui came to national and international attention in March 2013 after she posted a photo of herself bare-chested on Facebook.