Topless protest as EU urges Tunisia legal reform

The European Commission on Tuesday urged Tunisia to reform criminal laws from its previous authoritarian regime as three topless feminist activists staged a protest in Brussels by jumping on visiting Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh's car.

"Stop Repression!" and "Free Amina!" the activists shouted, before being led away by police. Amina Sboui, a teenage anti-Islamist feminist, is being held in a Tunisian jail over her protests in a case that has attracted widespread controversy.

"The EU calls for a reform of laws inherited from the previous regime particularly in the criminal code to ensure freedom of speech for Tunisian men and women," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said at a joint briefing with Larayedh.

Barroso also said Tunisia's justice system should be overhauled "to ensure its independence and impartiality" in order for Tunisia to achieve a "full and deep democracy".

Larayedh was visiting Brussels on the eve of an appeals hearing for three European activists from the feminist group Femen who were sentenced to four months in prison this month for baring their breasts in Tunis in a pro-Amina protest.

The case has been criticised in Europe, where it is seen by some as a test of democratic freedoms under the Islamist-led government which came to power after a 2011 revolution.

Since the 1950s, Tunisia has had the most liberal laws in the Arab world on women's rights, and the ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahda is often forced to defend itself against the charge of wanting to roll back those rights.

The socially conservative Muslim nation has also witnessed a sharp rise in the activity of radical Islamists since the revolution, some of whom were angered by the topless protest and called for the activists to be given tougher sentences.

Also on Tuesday, Tunisian rapper Ala Yaacoub -- better known by his nickname Weld El 15 -- is due in court to appeal a two-year sentence for a song in which he insulted the police.

The court ruling was criticised by Tunisia's opposition and by human rights groups as an attack on freedom of speech.