Tunisian Woman Sent to a Psychiatric Hospital for Posting Topless Photos on Facebook

Amina, a 19-year-old who hoped to join the radical protest group Femen, is also threatened with death by stoning.
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Activist from the women's rights organisation Femen protest outside the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 26, 2013. (Miro Kuzmanovic/Reuters)

Amina, a 19-year-old Tunisian aspirant to the radical, Ukraine-born feminist group Femen has been delivered by her parents to a psychiatric hospital in Tunis, according to reports received by Femen leader Inna Shevchenko in Paris. Amina (her last name is unknown) had posted topless photos of herself on the Femen web page she created for the group in Tunisia several weeks ago. One photo shows her topless, smoking a cigarette, with "My Body is My Own and Not the Source of Anyone's Honor" scrawled in Arabic across her chest. Another shows her raising her middle fingers to the camera, with "Fuck Your Morals," written on her torso. The site was subsequently hacked and temporarily plastered with citations from the Quran.

The head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Tunisia, Almi Adel, a Salafi Islamic preacher, has called for Amina to be "stoned to death" for posting the images. He warned that Amina's action could cause "epidemics and disasters" and "could be contagious and give ideas to other women." Media reports say Tunisian secular law would punish her with up to two years in prison.

"Amina and I were in contact by phone until four days ago, when she disappeared," Shevchenko told me from Paris in a Skype interview on Friday afternoon. "Her phone went dead and her Facebook page was removed, which also meant I lost all my correspondence with her. I can't get hold of her." Since late February, she and Amina had been discussing Femen's ideology and the inauguration of a branch of the movement in Tunisia.

Shevchenko was also alerted to a video in which Amina's aunt declared that the aspiring Femen member "is now with her family. She had decided to kill herself and so posted nude pictures of herself online," which Shevchenko characterized 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."

Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, author of the 2006 bestseller The God Delusion, has taken up her cause and is calling for a day of action in support of Amina. Twitter is ablaze with reaction to the events (check out #Amina) and a petition has been posted online demanding that those who threaten Amina's life face the courts.

Femen itself issued a statement calling on women to "Fight for their freedom against religious atrocities" and to "Use your body as a poster for the slogans of freedom. Bare breasts against Islamism."

Amina's disappearance follows her appearance on the popular Tunisian television talk show, Labes, on March 16. With her face blurred, apparently to protect her identity, she explains her decision to join Femen.

I asked Shevchenko what she planned to do in response to Amina's detetion. "The only question for us is," she replied, "when are we in Femen going to Tunisia?"

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Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of seven books.

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