Crowd backs Tunisia 'rape' woman outside court

Demonstration outside courthouse in Tunis, 2 Oct 12 The woman's lawyer kept her concealed amid the throng in the street

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A woman allegedly raped by police in Tunisia has been questioned by a judge who will decide whether to prosecute her for "indecency" with her fiance.

Outside the courthouse in Tunis, hundreds of people voiced support for the 27-year-old woman, whose case has been headline news in Tunisia.

Her supporters say the "indecency" claims are aimed at persuading her to drop her accusation against the police.

Some fear the ruling Islamist Ennahda party wants to weaken women's rights.

The accused woman, who covered her face as she left the courthouse, said three policemen had stopped her on 3 September while she was in a car with her fiance, and two of them went on to rape her. The policemen deny that, saying she was engaged in immoral behaviour with her fiance.

The policemen, awaiting trial, face heavy jail terms or even a death sentence if found guilty.

The woman's fiance has been accused of indecency, like her, and he too covered his face to conceal his identity. A verdict of immoral behaviour can mean up to six months in prison.

Ahlem Belhadj, a lawyer representing the woman, told AFP news agency that "it is a case that shames Tunisia".

"Within our culture, even in the legal system, there is a tendency to hold the victims responsible for their rape," said Ms Belhadj, who is also president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women.

She said the woman was in a "very fragile" psychological state, but remained determined to fight.

Correspondents say women's rights are now a matter of national debate as the Ennahda-led government revises the old constitution, which was tainted by decades of authoritarian rule.

Despite the harsh rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ousted in an uprising last year, Tunisia was widely seen as enlightened on women's rights, compared with many other Arab countries.

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