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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Two Tunisian police officers were convicted of raping a young woman and sentenced to seven years in prison in a case that drew widespread protests after the victim was initially accused of immoral behavior. A third officer received a two-year sentence for extorting money from the woman's fiance.
The officers came upon the woman, then 27, and her fiance in a car in September 2012. She said two of the men took turns raping her while the third held her fiance back, then forced him to withdraw money from an ATM.
An initial decision to charge the woman with violating Tunisia's modesty laws drew widespread protests in Tunisia, where the case was closely watched for signs of how women's rights would fare after the 2011 fall of the secular dictatorship. Those charges were ultimately dropped, and the victim published a book entitled "Guilty of Being Raped," under the same pseudonym she used in the courtroom.
But the sentences late Monday of the officers drew criticism from the woman's lawyer, a human rights activist in Tunisia who said they were far too lenient.
"It's scandalous," said Radhia Nasraoui. "They denied everything. They even had the nerve to suggest that she was making advances on them."
Protesters gathered outside the courtroom on Monday ahead of the verdict.
Both the woman's accusation against police and the ensuing public uproar would have been unthinkable under longtime autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in 2011. Concerns that women would continue to suffer under the new leadership eased with the passage this year of a constitution that guarantees equality between men and women before the law and committed the government to protecting women's rights.
NEW YORK (AP) — A Venezuelan tourist who said she was wrongfully accused of shoplifting at Macy's flagship store was acquitted Monday in a case that came to light amid concerns that shoppers were being racially profiled at prominent New York stores, her lawyer said.
A judge cleared Maria Paez, who said she was just carrying items around the store when she put them in a Macy's bag during a Sept. 12 trip. She soon found herself handcuffed, held in a store detention cell for hours, and pressed to sign a confession and pay $500, while her 12-year-old son waited in the store uninformed of where she was, according to her attorney, Daniel Hochheiser.
Court records weren't immediately available Monday evening, and Manhattan district attorney's office representatives had no immediate information on the case. Paez faced misdemeanor charges that carried the potential for up to three months in jail.
Paez, whose family owns real estate and a pet-food company in Venezuela, maintains that Macy's security guards targeted her because she spoke Spanish and had words with an impolite fitting-room attendant.
"She stuck up for herself, and they didn't appreciate that a foreigner was actually going to talk back to them, and they were going to teach her a lesson," Hochheiser said.
A Macy's spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Paez and her attorneys drew attention to her case at a news conference in November, when a series of complaints by black shoppers had spotlighted long-simmering questions about security practices and profiling at Macy's and other major retailers in the city. One shopper, Robert Brown, an actor on the HBO drama "Treme," said he was held for almost an hour and grilled about a $1,300 watch he had bought his mother for her college graduation. He was eventually released without charges.
He and at least eight other customers have filed lawsuits saying the store made famous by "Miracle on 34th Street" wrongly targets minorities and holds customers for hours. Macy's has said it doesn't tolerate discrimination.
The allegations — which came years after Macy's paid a $600,000 fine and promised to change practices to settle similar claims raised by the state attorney general— sparked an outcry among civil rights advocates. In December, Macy's and several other major retailers agreed to create and publicize a customer bill of rights that explicitly prohibits profiling and unreasonable searches.
"I think we're making excellent progress," Ed Goldberg, a senior Macy's executive, said then.
But Hochheiser suggests there hasn't been enough progress.
"One of the hopes is that there are more Maria Paezes out there who will actually fight these cases and, perhaps, eventually, Macy's will change," he said.
Laws in at least 27 states give stores the right to hold and fine shoplifting suspects and allow stores to try to recoup some losses, even if a person isn't convicted.
During the more than six hours Paez spent in a store holding cell and a police precinct, she wasn't allowed to call her son, her attorney said. He said the boy didn't learn what had happened until store employees ultimately found him in a shoe department at closing time and took him to a security office.