TUNIS, Tunisia — Amina Tyler, the 19-year-old Tunisian woman who scandalized many in the country by posting topless photos of herself online as a protest, could face six months in prison for her latest arrest, her lawyer said Friday.
Tyler, who had to go into hiding after receiving death threats from conservative preachers for posting the photos, tried to stage a new protest at the religious center of Kairouan, where ultraconservative Muslims had planned to hold their annual conference.
Witnesses said she scrawled the name of FEMEN, the Ukrainian feminist group known for its use of nudity in protests, on the wall of a cemetery near the main mosque, and police alleged she sought to remove her clothes. An angry crowd gathered and she was hustled away by police.
Her lawyer, Mokhtar Jannene, said Tyler was charged only with carrying a dangerous object, which turned out to be a pen-sized personal protection device that shot some kind of debilitating spray.
"It's a case of judicial acrobatics," scoffed her lawyer, who said the charge was based on a law dating from 1894 and should not have been used in this case.
Tyler received the device from a foreign journalist who had interviewed her earlier and left it for her as protection, said the lawyer, adding that police found it in her bag after searching her. Tyler is in good spirits and will face a judge on Thursday, said Jannene, who visited her in the Kairouan prison.
The young woman's mother appeared on Tunisian television and said her daughter never tried to remove her clothing and insisted she suffered mental problems.
Tyler has become a focal point in the battle over the country's identity after the overthrow of a suffocating dictatorship in January 2011 opened the way for competing religious and secular groups. She said in April that she was leaving for France to study journalism but planned to do one last dramatic protest before she left.
By choosing to protest in Kairouan, Tunisia's main religious site, Tyler stepped into an extremely sensitive situation just as the government has taken steps to confront the rising power of ultraconservative Muslims.
Ansar al-Shariah, a group whose members have been implicated in violent attacks on art galleries and cinemas, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, had announced it would hold its annual conference in Kairouan but refused to apply for official permission for the gathering.
The government, which is run by moderate Islamists and has been long accused by the opposition of coddling extremists, announced that the conference was banned and backed up its decision with 11,000 police and soldiers to stop the conservatives, known as Salafis, from gathering in the city.