Tunisian feminist arrested for alleged provocation

May 20, 2013, 12:59 PM EDT
Activists of the Communist Youth Organization alongside women's right movement Femen hold up placards as they take part in a protest outside the Tunisian embassy in Stockholm on April 4, 2013.
AFP/Getty Images

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — An outspoken Tunisian feminist who scandalized the country by posting topless photos of herself online has been arrested and may be charged for conducting "provocative acts" at a religious center where police prevented hardline Islamists from holding their annual conference, the Interior Ministry said Monday.

Amina Tyler, 19, describes herself as a member of the Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN, which uses nudity in protests. On Sunday she went to the central Tunisian city of Kairouan, where police prevented the hardline Ansar al-Shariah group from holding a conference after it was deemed a threat to public order.

Tyler allegedly scrawled FEMEN on the wall near the main mosque and may have intended to hang a banner on the building before an angry crowd of locals gathered shouting at her to leave.

Video posted by the Tunisian online Nawaat news site shows Tyler, with dyed blond hair, clutching a banner and being hustled away by police and put into a van as residents chased her.

A local resident shouts at the camera: "She is dishonoring us. We will protect our town, but a dirty girl like her shouldn't come among us."

In March, Tyler posted pictures of her topless body with the phrase "my body is my own" scrawled on it, and she went into hiding after receiving death threats. Her family took her to stay with relatives outside the capital before she escaped and hid with friends.

Last month she said she wanted to do one more dramatic protest before leaving for France to study journalism.

Mohammed Ali Aroui, the spokesman for the Tunisian Interior Ministry, described her acts as provocative and said she is under investigation and may be charged for her behavior on Sunday. He added that he understood the angry reaction of local residents to her appearance.

The ministry had banned Ansar al-Shariah's annual conference, citing it as a "threat to security and public order," and sent 11,000 soldiers and police to prevent hardline Muslims, known as salafis, from entering Kairouan.

There were minor clashes in the central city, but it was a Tunis suburb that saw the most severe violence involving hundreds of protesters, burning tires, rocks and tear gas. The state news agency said one person was killed.

Aroui said Tyler was able to make it into Kairouan through multiple police checkpoints because she had been wearing a veil and they did not recognize her.

Tunisia was ruled with an iron hand for 23 years by dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali until he was overthrown in a popular uprising in 2011 that sparked the Arab Spring across the region. With his fall, Tunisia has witnessed an explosion of new groups and movements from across the political spectrum.