Lebanese strip off to support skier and women's rights
By Erika Solomon
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Free speech and women's rights supporters have posted semi-nude photographs of themselves on the Internet to protest at official condemnation of an Olympic skier who posed for a topless calendar shoot.
Switzerland-based Jackie Chamoun, 22, who is skiing for Lebanon at the Winter Games in Sochi, has apologized for photos and a video that appeared online, saying they were never meant to be published and she understood the criticism inside the conservative country.
But after Lebanon's sports minister said the photos had damaged the country's reputation, several of her compatriots expressed anger at the outrage in a nation racked by sectarian strife and where violence against women often goes unchallenged.
"You have women facing beatings ... you have explosions and so little security here, and people are completely distracted by a few pictures," said Tarek Muqadam, a photographer who offered to take free naked portraits at a studio in Beirut for the online campaign.
Using the hashtag #stripforjackie, dozens of men and women posed topless or naked, holding strategically placed signs, with the slogan: "I am not naked".
"I don't know how much the campaign in and of itself can change anything, but at least it's a step to get people to think about changing, to think about what's going on," said Tarek. "Lebanon used to be known for its freedoms."
Often described as the playground of the Middle East, Lebanon is more open than many politically and socially conservative neighbors. But activists say censorship is on the rise and women's rights have long been neglected.