Photo Gallery: Femen Activists in Tunisian Prison


Verdict in Tunisia Femen Activist Surprised at Jail Sentence

A German Femen activist and two fellow demonstrators were sentenced to four months in prison for a topless protest in Tunis. The 19-year-old was recently visited by the German government's human rights commissioner. He said the woman was completely surprised at the verdict.

The German Femen activist who is imprisoned in Tunisia shares her cell with 29 other women. That's according to German Human Rights Commissioner Markus Löning, who spoke to SPIEGEL ONLINE after visiting her in prison.

Löning, who is in Tunisia on another appointment, was able to speak with the 19-year-old for about an hour. Josephine Witt was arrested after a topless protest  at the end of May and, like her two French fellow activists, sentenced to four months in prison.

The three Femen activists share a cell in a women's prison in Manouba near Tunis with 27 other prisoners. "I had the impression she was composed. She seems to be a strong young woman," said Löning after the meeting. At the same time Witt, who was wearing a Tunisian robe over her clothes, seemed "still completely surprised by the punishment -- they didn't expect it," said Löning, a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP).

The meeting between Löning and Witt took place in the prison warden's quarters. Löning described the atmosphere as friendly. "I visit many prisoners, and I have seen worse."

In the prison itself there didn't appear to be any extra resentment because of the protest. "She said they are being very well treated by the other prisoners," Löning said.

The protest, part of Femen's so-called "Topless Jihad," sparked anger in Tunisia. Islamists petitioned to be co-plaintiffs in the legal proceedings against them. But Tunisian feminists also voiced disapproval of their actions. One prominent feminist and opposition leader said, "Femen, leave us alone!" 

Hope for the Appeal Process

Witt spoke with Löning about the actions that landed her in prison. She said that she didn't want to offend anyone with the protest but merely wanted to help a fellow activist  who was already imprisoned.

According to Löning, Witt has not been permitted to call Germany. The German Embassy in Tunisia, however, is currently lobbying the prison to make this possible.

Löning is in Tunis to announce Germany's accession to the Freedom Online Coalition, which aims to promote the protection of human rights on the Internet. Though he declined to comment on the actions of Femen, Löning did say, "The penalty is exaggerated."

The detained Femen activist is holding out hope for the appeal process. The sentence could yet be reduced, which is not uncommon in Tunisia. A date for the appeal has not yet been set.