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Tunisia: FEMEN Activist Faces Possession of Pepper Spray Charge

Tunisian FEMEN activist, known by the pseudonym Amina Tyler, 19, is set to appear before a court on May 30, to face a charge of possessing pepper spray. Amina made local and international news headlines last March, when she posted topless pictures of herself on Facebook.

On May 19, Amina headed to Kairouan, 184km from the capital Tunis, to protest Ansar al-Sharia's [a radical Islamist group demanding the implementation of Islamic law in Tunisia] vows to hold their annual congress there. The congress did not take place as security forces enforced a government ban on the gathering which it described as “threatening to security and public order”. However, Amina staged her protest and graffitied the word FEMEN on a cemetery wall near the historical Mosque of Uqba. Security forces then interfered and escorted Amina to a police van, when outraged local residents shouted “Dégage” [leave] at her.

Unlike what was reported in a number of media outlets, Amina is not facing any “indecency” charges. She could, however, spend up to to six months in prison for the non-authorized possession of pepper spray. Award-winning blog Nawaat also reported that the young woman has so far not been charged with “tomb desecration”, a charge which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison in accordance to the Tunisian Penal Code.

Tunis-based French journalist Perrine Massy reports [fr]:

Amina sera jugée le 30 mai pour détention sans autorisation d’une bombe de gaz paralysant. L’objet, selon l’un de ses avocats, Me Souheib Bahri, a été retrouvé dans le sac à dos de la jeune fille, sans que l’on puisse savoir si elle comptait l’utiliser comme une arme ou pour se défendre…

Quant à une éventuelle « profanation de tombeaux », elle est simplement mentionnée dans le procès verbal, mais n’a pas été prise en considération par le procureur général et ne fait (pour l’instant) pas l’objet de poursuites judiciaires.

Enfin, contrairement à ce qu’on a pu lire parfois, nulle part il n’est fait mention ni d’une atteinte à la pudeur ni d’une détention d’arme blanche par Amina.

Amina will face trial on May 30 over the non-authorized possession of paralyzing spray. According to one of her lawyers Mr. Souheib Bahri, the spray was found in the young woman's backpack. We have not been able to verify if she was planning to use it for self defense purposes or not.

The possible “tomb desecration” charge was only mentioned in the statement of the facts, but has not been taken into consideration by the general prosecutor and is not the subject of prosecution (for the time being).

Finally, contrary to some [news] reports, Amina does not face any “indecency” or possession of a cold weapon charges.

Nawaat also obtained footage (with English subtitles) featuring an interview with Amina and her protest action in Kairouan on May 19.

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