Tunisia policemen get 7-year prison sentences for rape

TUNIS, Tunisia - Two Tunisian policemen were convicted late Monday of raping a young woman and sentenced to seven years in prison in a case that has captured international attention for the victim.

Earlier in court the two policemen had denied the charge, instead accusing the woman of seeking to have sex with them, provoking an emotional outburst from the alleged victim.

"They denied everything," Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer of the young woman known by her pseudonym Meriem Ben Mohamed, told AFP.

One of the accused claimed instead that the young woman had tried to perform oral sex, Nasraoui added.

Koutheir Bouallegue, another of the victim's lawyers, confirmed the policemen denied raping her.

"One of them admitted that he masturbated," he said.

After the verdict Nasraoui said she was "very disappointed" and thought it was too "lenient".

Journalists had been barred from attending the closed court session.

Three police officers faced trial over the incident, which took place in September 2012, two of them accused of rape.

The defendants say they found the young woman and her boyfriend having sex in their car in a Tunis suburb.

According to the charges, they then took the woman to a police car, where two of them took turns to rape her, while the third policeman allegedly tried to extort money from her fiance at a bank cashpoint. He was given a two-year prison sentence, a judicial source told AFP.

The public prosecutor tried unsuccessfully to bring indecency charges against the couple, sparking a storm of protest and a campaign of support for Ben Mohamed, who was 27 when the incident took place.

She emerged from the courtroom crying on Monday afternoon, saying: "When I demand justice, they insult me."'Attacking victim's character'

Emna Zahrouni, another lawyer representing Ben Mohamed, said a member of the defence team emphasised during the hearing that the unmarried young woman regularly had sex, saying his claim was based on the forensic report.

"Their intention is to tell the court that she was not a virgin. They are attacking her character," knowing that sex outside marriage is taboo, Zahrouni said.

"The only slur left (to the defence) is to call her a whore," said Radhia Nasraoui.

Speaking before Monday's hearing, Ben Mohamed, who has already published a book in France entitled "Guilty of Being Raped," giving her account of what happened, had said she was not optimistic about the outcome of the trial, which she described as an "ordeal".

But she had voiced determination to see her aggressors punished, saying she would appeal if they got off lightly.

"If only this whole episode would finish. But I will not give up, whatever the verdict," the young woman told AFP, standing beside her boyfriend.

Outside the court house, a small group of supporters waved banners and shouted slogans, including Amina Sboui, a former member of the radical women's protest group Femen.

"I'm here to support Meriem and all women victims of rape. Anyone guilty of raping a woman should be punished," Sboui said, urging victims to take legal action.

"Society has been hard on Meriem," she added.

A psychologist's report, commissioned by the court and seen by AFP, diagnosed Ben Mohamed with "depression aggravating a state of post-traumatic stress".

It said her condition was "directly linked to what she suffered," and that her symptoms, which included anxiety, adaptation problems and personality disorder, can last for years after a woman is raped.