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Tunisia dismisses charge against Femen activist Sboui

A court in Tunisia has dismissed one charge against a member of the women's activist group Femen. However, Amina Sboui remains in prison pending trial on the charge of desecrating a cemetery.

Defense attorney Leila Ben Debba said Monday that the court in Tunis had tossed out a charge of insulting and defaming a public servant brought against her client, who also goes by Amina Tyler. Police had arrested Sboui on May 19 for allegedly scrawling Femen on a cemetery wall in the city of Kairouan to protest a planned conference of conservative Muslims. While awaiting trial on that charge, Sboui alleged that guards mistreated and even tortured inmates at her prisoner - and suddenly found herself on trial for the now-dismissed defamation charge.

"The court decided to dismiss the case against Amina," Ben Debba said. "It is a victory: The judiciary has begun to understand that she has been unfairly prosecuted."

Sboui still faces charges for possessing pepper spray, which police caught her with when they arrested her for desecrating the cemetery. She says she carried the pepper spray for self-defense after threats against her followed her posting on Facebook a picture of her bare breasts and the words "My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone's honor" in March. Despite her claim, Sboui faces a prison sentence of between six months and five years for the pepper spray.

Continuing struggles

The court could also charge Sboui with desecrating the cemetery for writing the word Femen, which derives its name from a Ukrainian rights organization known best for protesting with bared breasts. She faces up to two years if found guilty. She says she wrote the word to protest an annual Salafist conference held in the city of Kairouan.

Sboui's family said that she suffered from chronic depression and had suicidal tendencies, and they prevented her from going out, claiming they feared for her safety. However, Sboui, born in 1993, accused her relatives of holding her in captivity and beating her and ran away from home in April. She regularly appeared in public before her detention in May, although never again topless.

At the end of May police arrested three Femen activists, two French and one German, after they beared their breasts outside the main Tunis courthouse, in a demonstration of support for Sboui. After international condemnation followed the arrest, Tunisia released those three women.

mkg/ccp (AFP, AP)