France grants asylum to Femen activist Shevchenko

The head of the French branch of radical topless feminist group Femen, Ukrainian Inna Shevchenko, said Monday that Paris had granted her request for political asylum.

Shevchenko told AFP she had received notification from France's OFPRA refugee agency that her request had been granted, based on fears that she would face persecution in Ukraine for her political activities.

The 23-year-old said she had made a "strategic choice" to seek asylum in France. "To develop the movement, we need a place, we need a country," she said.

The agency refused to comment, saying information on asylum requests was confidential. But OFPRA documents seen by AFP said the decision to grant Shevchenko asylum had been taken on April 9.

Shevchenko said she fears persecution in Ukraine after she sawed down a large wooden cross that stood in the centre of Kiev.

The stunt was intended to support Russian band Pussy Riot, whose members were jailed last year for their "punk prayer" protest against President Vladimir Putin's close relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Shevchenko made the request for asylum after arriving in France last August on a tourist visa. She subsequently set up a "training centre" for Femen activists in Paris and the group has carried out a number of protests in the city.

Founded in Ukraine in 2008, Femen is a self-declared "radical feminist" group known for its topless protests against sexual exploitation of women, sexism and religious institutions.

Its protests have sparked widespread controversy, including in Tunisia where three European women were jailed for baring their breasts in public during a protest in support of a detained Tunisian Femen activist.

The three were released from prison and returned to Paris late last month after apologising for their actions.

On Friday police in Turkey arrested a Femen activist who had staged a topless protest at an Istanbul airport to denounce Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's religious conservatism.