Death threats from authority figures, over a single topless photograph of an activist named Amina, have inspired a global backlash
"Her act could bring about an epidemic. It could be contagious and give ideas to other women. It is therefore necessary to isolate [the incident]…”
The cleric Almi Adel, chair of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Tunisia who spoke those words (French), may be chewing them over today, as news of Amina's protest, her detainment and the threats against her, have spread around the world and inspired many more to protest in her name. The cleric had also threatened that “The young lady should be punished according to sharia, with 80 to 100 lashes, but due to the severity of the act she has committed, she deserves be stoned to death.”
He was speaking in response to a protest action by Amina Tyler, an activist with FEMEN, who posted a photograph of herself topless to her FEMEN Tunisia Facebook page, bearing on her body the phrase, "My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone's honor" and in another image, "Fuck your morals". Subsequently she was photographed for a media interview bearing the words “Women = Revolution”.
In light of conservative Islamist responses and explicit threats of execution by stoning, there was – and remains – a serious threat to Amina's safety.
The photographs, as well as the threats to her life and liberty, have also inspired a worldwide protest, with a petition for her freedom currently at over 100,000 names, and FEMEN declaring tomorrow, 4 April, “International Topless Jihad Day” (also see the Facebook page).
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is calling on Tunisia authorities to limit their involvement in the case to the protection of Amina and the prosecution of those who threaten her. President of IHEU, Sonja Eggerickx, said:
“Autonomy and independent protest are crucial to free and flourishing society, and should be protected not abhorred. Alas this is wishful thinking and sometimes just asking for human rights and equal status is clearly not enough. The achievement of FEMEN in raising awareness on the oppression and hypocrisy directed at women is tremendous. In societies where women are too often reduced to objects to please men in all aspects of life, those same men are suddenly outraged when a woman uses her body to display her rights.
“Those who decry the protest as 'shocking' or 'offensive' to their morals should consider that this is exactly the point, you are the target; what is drawn attention to by this protest is the fetish made of women's bodies and the external control over women's lives. Those who are shocked should consider that Amina knew full well the scorn it would bring and the personal danger it represented, therefore they must appreciate and try to comprehend how strong is the outrage at being told what to wear, where to be, how to behave.
“To react to this protest with fury and more oppression is stubborn and shows a total failure either to empathise with the protester or to understand the basic point being made. That Amina has been locked away apparently against her wishes and received many death threats and other vile messages is the real outrage of her case.
“We stand in solidarity with Amina, and all those who will join her.”
For several days Amina's whereabouts were contested with rumours that she had been detained in a psychiatric facility by her family, though it appears she is now at a family home, possibly detained against her will and denied external communications.
FEMEN's leader Inna Shevchenko described Amina’s sequestration as "a typical way of reacting to a woman's demand to be free – they say she's gone crazy or is being too emotional."
In an interview prior to her detainment, Amina spoke of her desire to see women proclaim equality in Tunisia and join FEMEN “out in the open”. Of the risk she faced she said, "The police in Tunisia do not act like the police in Europe. If they catch me they may beat or rape me.” She was smeared in the media from the outset, Amina herself explaining: “They wrote all kinds of things about me: that I work for Mossad, that I am a whore. I received death threats, but also encouragement to continue, and compliments for my courage.”
On whether she is scared of reprisals for her actions she said, “No, nothing they could do would be worse than what already happens here to women, the way women are forced to live every day. Ever since we are small they tell us to be calm, to behave well, to dress a certain way, everything to find a husband.” She said, “There are other girls who are preparing to come out in the open. In Tunisia we are ready to have a Femen group.”
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