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Femen activist trial in Cologne

December 3, 2014

The trial of a member of radical feminist group Femen has begun in Germany. Josephine Witt jumped up half-naked onto the altar of Cologne cathedral during Christmas mass last year, in protest against the Catholic Church.

Femen activist Jospehine Witt, Cologne cathedral, December 2013
Image: picture alliance/Elke Lehrenkrauss

Almost a year after Josephine Witt climbed topless onto the altar of Cologne Cathedral during a Christmas mass, the member of the radical feminist protest group Femen stood trial on Wednesday in the western German city.

The 21-year-old is facing charges of the disturbance of the free practice of religion - a crime which, if found guilty, could see her imprisoned for up to three years.

In protest against the Catholic Church and its hierarchy, Witt stood half naked with the words "I am God" written across her chest and stomach. Immediately after her bare protest, Witt told press agency dpa: "Cologne is the capital of Catholics in Germany, and [Cardinal] Meisner stands for a very conservative orientation."

Unfazed by Witt's protest, Cardinal Meisner, who has since retired said: "I'm 80 years old. I've lived through so much: first the Nazi period, then the entire Communist period - something like this can't shock me after that."

At the time of the protest, however, one worshipper was less than impressed and slapped Witt after she had be pulled down from the altar by cathedral staff. The church-goer later settled the legal case over the blow for 500 euros ($615).

Earlier this year, Witt also took part in a demonstration against Russian President Vladimir Putin but was overpowered by his bodyguards.

Pussy Riot comparison

Femen, which was founded in Ukraine in 2008, has compared Witt's case to the trial against feminist activists Pussy Riot in Russia, after the group conducted a protest in a Russian Orthodox church in Moscow. Despite protests from Germany and other countries, three of Pussy Riot's members were imprisoned.

Cathedral provost Norbert Feldhoff, however, dubbed Femen's comparison as "completely overblown," saying that the German and Russian justice systems were hardly comparable. "This isn't just about the Catholic Church, it's about free practice of religion in its widest sense, it's about living together peacefully."

Femen is now based in Paris, but now has several international branches which have become known for organizing controversial topless protests against a host of subjects, including sexism, homophobia and sex tourism.

ksb/jr (dpa, epd)

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