World News

Morocco expels two French women after topless gay rights protest

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco expelled two French women activists who bared their breasts and kissed each other outside an ancient mosque on Tuesday in a protest about gay rights in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

It was at least the second demonstration by the feminist group Femen in a Muslim country, after Tunisia in 2013 where three European activists were sentenced to four months in jail. They were released after serving one month.

“This act of provocation was an unacceptable offence to Moroccan society,” the interior ministry said in a statement.

“The two were arrested at Rabat international airport after they filmed obscene scenes.”

The women were apparently on their way home when they were arrested. Authorities added they were barred from returning to Morocco. Their actions probably breached Moroccan “public indecency” laws.

Hassan Mosque, where the protest happened, is a medieval site visited by thousands of tourists every year, but it no longer functions as an active place of worship.

“I know Morocco could be more dangerous than Tunisia,” one of the protesters, who identified herself only as Marguerite, told Reuters earlier on Tuesday in the building’s courtyard in the capital, Rabat.

The protest may put pressure on the Islamist-led administration from conservative and religious groups who were already upset over a recent concert by U.S. singer Jennifer Lopez in Morocco that they deemed provocative.

Morocco has an Islamic-inspired penal code that bans sex outside marriage and forbids Moroccans from drinking alcohol, but a generally more tolerant approach gives young people more freedom than many other countries in the region.

That has partly helped Morocco attract tourists, especially from western Europe, providing much-needed foreign currency and jobs to an economy that lacks the oil riches of neighbouring Algeria.

However, homosexuality remains more sensitive than sex outside marriage and drinking alcohol.

Last march, a court in the Mediterranean city of al Hoceima sentenced two men, accused of consensual homosexual activity, to one year and six months in prison.

Morocco’s 2011 Constitution states, in article 24: “All persons have the right to protection of their private life.”

The right, absent in the previous constitution, should lead to the abolition of the law criminalising consensual same-sex conduct, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on the al Hoceima trial.

Editing by Patrick Markey and Robin Pomeroy