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News of the release of the three European Femen in Tunisia came up in my reader via the blog of Caroline Fourest. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere in English (maybe I just missed it) so I thought I’d throw up a quick post since Google searches for Femen and Amina Tyler seem to bring people here on occasion.

The three members of the activist feminist group, Femen, who were being detained in Tunisia, arrived in Paris on Thursday, June 27. Two of the women, Pauline Hillier and Marguerite Stern are French nationals. The third, Josephine Markmann is from Germany.

Earlier, on Wednesday, the three women had been sentenced to a penalty of four months and one day under the First Offenders Act (avec sursis). They had been arrested for a topless demonstration in support of Amina Sbouï, also known as Amina Tyler, which occurred on Wednesday, May 29. At their sentencing, they expressed regret. Upon their return to France, they retracted the apology.

Previously, they had been sentence to four months and one day in prison ferme. This was reduced after an appeal. I have to appologize to my visitors for being unable to give a good definition of en prison ferme and avec sursis. The best I can make out is that is that the first simply means “in prison” while the second is either a deferred sentence or a form of parole. If anyone has a clearer explanation, please let me know.

According to TF1 news, Pauline Hillier said, “The conditions of detention were terrible.” “I can assure you that we’ve come back from hell.” She said that  there were “daily humiliations, hazing and deplorable hygienic conditions.”

Amina, herself a Tunisian national, remains in prison.

[Edit] There is some information in English on Taslima Nasreen’s blog.

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Amina

When I last wrote about Amina Tyler, there was not much information to be had. For those who have not been following this story, the nineteen year old Tunisian woman first came to the attention of the world when she put up a photograph of herself on her Facebook page declaring herself to be a supporter of the feminist group FEMEN, a group I only became aware of when I attended a marriage equality demonstration in Paris last December. In the photograph, she was topless with the words “My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honor” written across her torso. Adel Almi, a Salafist preacher and president of Al-Jamia Al-Li-Wassatia Tawia Wal-Islah, The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, in Tunisia, called for her execution by means of stoning. On March 16th, she appeared on the Tunisian television talk show, Labes, to explain why she joined Femen. Shortly afterward, she disappeared from view for a time. Her family had kept her locked up and given her psychiatric medications and forced her to read the Koran. On April 4th, there were world-wide protests in support of Amina. In mid-April she escaped from her family and contacted the Femen website. She began to make plans to move to France where she would continue her education.

Since that time, she has continued speaking out and protesting. Acting against the advice of friends and political supporters, she wanted to continue to engage in political protests while waiting to move to France. On May 21 she appeared in court as a result of writing “FEMEN” on the wall of a mosque for which she was charged with “desecrating a grave” and “attacking modesty.” Nadia El Fani, the Franco-Tunisian film director, and Caroline Fourest, the French journalist, called the charges, which could result in six months to two years in prison, “ubuesque” in an article written in support of Amina which appeared in the French news magazine Marianne. A photograph of the graffiti in question can be found on Caroline Fourest’s blog.

Three other members of Femen, two from France and one from Germany, staged a topless protest in front of the courthouse when Amina Tyler went on trial on May 30th. According to Maryam Namazie:

the three FEMEN activists – Marguerite, Josephine and Pauline – who staged a topless protest at the court in Tunisia at Amina’s first hearing and who are now in jail and face prison terms must be freed immediately. In the courtroom, the activists bags had been put over their heads and they were covered in blankets; the judge banned photos and videos. According to human rights activist Patrick Klugman, who came from Paris to represent the interests of the FEMEN said: “I am horrified. Without giving FEMEN activists permission to speak, the court listened only to Salafi organizations which are not even the defendants in this case! Fair trial did not take place because the accused have not been released from custody, and they were not even heard.” Pre-trial is set for June 12.

I had to search multiple sources to write this up and I hope I got all the facts right. Most of the information came via Mayam Namazie and Caroline Fourest.

Frank Lautenberg

On Monday, the United States senator from the state of New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, passed away. He was a consistent advocate for the separation of church and state. There is a very interesting article about his opposition to the conservative activist and writer of false American history books, David Barton, on Chris Rodda’s blog. It’s probably a little too steeped in the American Constitution for anyone who’s not highly familiar with our laws regarding the separation of church and state. Still, it makes for interesting reading.

A squirrel checking me out.Last night, I did a bit of searching around the internet to see if I could find any concrete information on what, if anything, has happened to the young woman. I originally became aware of Amina’s situation due to a post by Maryam Namzie, an Iranian born feminist and human rights activist, who is also a former Muslim. Pretty simply, I went to Google and typed in Amina Tyler under their new search. What I didn’t find was as interesting as what I did find. Not seeing, the New York Times on the list of articles, I went directly to that site and typed in “Amina Tyler” and came up with nothing. Apparently, the The New York Times did not see this as a subject deserving coverage of any sort. I went back to the Google search results and followed the link to an article on Aljazeera, which I usually find to be a high quality source of information, especially on international issues. However, the only article they had was entitled “Muslim women decry topless gender protests.” I typed “Amina Tyler” into their search box and came up with nothing else.

The most complete articles in English have been in the UK version of the Huffington Post. I consider the Huffington Post to be too sensationalistic to be reliable.

Aljazeera has a page devoted to Human Rights, but no story about Amina appeared there. This left me wondering whether or not women’s rights have the same standing as other human rights. Amina’s photos were clearly intended as political speech, not pornography. To charge her with any criminal charges would definitely put it in the realm of persecution for political activism. Will mainstream human rights groups take up her case?

In the meantime, over at Jezebel, in some sort of “more pc than thou” fit, Callie Beusman wrote the shockingly stupid “Muslim Women Shockingly Not Grateful for Topless European Ladies Trying To ‘Save’ Them.” Well, two can play that game. Callie Beusman, are you so prejudiced against women who are not of European descent that when you see women speaking up for themselves you assume they must be European? Because in this video posted on the Femen site, one of the demonstrators appears to identify herself as an Arab woman. It should be noted that most of the protesters were protesting against Salafism or Islamism, the radical, highly politicized form of Islam, not necessarily Islam in general. The counter protest isn’t just Muslim women protesting against Femen, it’s Muslim women protesting against a Muslim woman who won’t conform. We had anti-feminist women, like Anita Bryant, here in the U.S. In fact, it’s very important for Western feminists to lend their support to women like Amina because we can’t lead the struggle there.

It should be fairly obvious that Amina would not be in her current problematic circumstances if she were not living in a country with a population that is mostly Muslim. She is not an isolated case. There are Egyptians who have participated in Femen protests. Maryam Nazmazie has recently put a post about a feminist Egyption political cartoonist. (Unfortunately the FTB site is not working – as usual – so I can’t give you a link. fixed!) It would be naive to think that all feminist activity in Islamic countries is the result of imperialistic Europeans.

I hope the left doesn’t fall into the trap of making this about racism, islamophobia and imperialism, rather than about free speech, the right to political expression and right of women to control their own bodies. Let’s make sure the focus remains on Amina and other women like her.

Which leads me to some thoughts about her. We should keep in mind what we are supporting when we say “We support Amina.” There is relatively little information on her. She has become best known for having disappeared from the public view. All I have seen are a handful of photos and one video in Arabic that I couldn’t understand. Right now, she is a blank screen onto which we can project almost anything. We should be prepared that when she surfaces, she may or may not live up to our expectations of her. What we need to remember is that we are supporting the principle of freedom of speech and the right of women to have control over their own bodies.

As it happens, I don’t belong to Femen and I don’t agree with many of their stances, especially as regards pornography.

In case anyone wants to do something other than take their shirt off, here’s a petition.

Well, this has gotten a bit longer than I expected, so I’ll just give you this link to an article about how atheists lack imagination and let you… well… imagine what I must think of it.

A sketch based on the photo that Amina put on youtube with the words, "my body belongs to me," written on her chest in Arabic.

My body belongs to me.

Wow, color! Anyone who knows me has got to know that this is my challenge. Typically, I’ve been using the Weekly Photo Challenges for my own ends, as a launching off point for making new photographs. Therefore, I don’t usually put up older photos. However,  I will this time. Not only do I have a series of photos that fit the theme perfectly, but the timing is almost perfect. I missed the international protests in support of Amina Tyler that occurred yesterday, until I saw some images on a news site. Amina Tyler, for those of you who haven’t heard, is an 18-year-old Tunisian woman who belongs to the feminist group, Femen, which is known for staging disruptive, topless protests. She put a photo of herself painted with the words “My body belongs to me and is the source of no one’s honor”, written in Arabic, on the internet. Since then she has received death threats and a prominent cleric in Tunisia has called for her to be stoned to death. She has since disappeared. There have been various rumors about what has happened to her, but I have not yet been able to find a reliable source.

I first heard of the group Femen when I took some photos of them at a demonstration for marriage equality last December. As you can see, the pictures are full of color.