It was Christmas of last year and church services were in full swing. That was the moment Josephine Witt scaled the altar with her bare chest bearing the words “I am God” to the shock and dismay of holiday worshipers. The Cologne District Court found Josephine Witt guilty on Wednesday on the charge of “disturbance of religious practice” and fined her 1,200 euros ($1,480).
Jumping on the altar was a show of freedom of expression, Witt said. “I did not want to harass anyone,” she added. “Even Jesus is hanging half naked on the cross.”
Judge Gerd Krämer called Witt’s deed “targeted ideological expression” and said she had “deliberately and grossly disturbed worship.”
After cathedral guards led her away on Christmas 2013, Witt said she had staged her protest in light of the Catholic Church’s attitudes toward women and the anti-abortion stance of Joachim Meisner, then the archbishop of Cologne. She faced three years in prison.
Witt’s fine was not the only legal fallout from her protest. One worshiper slapped her after the iconic cathedral’s staff pulled her down from the altar on that Christmas morning. The churchgoer later settled the legal case over the blow for 500 euros.
Femen, which was founded in Ukraine in 2008, has compared Witt’s case to the trial against the Russian activists Pussy Riot, who had conducted a protest in an Orthodox church in Moscow. Despite protests from Germany and other countries, three of Pussy Riot’s members were imprisoned.
Cologne Cathedral provost Norbert Feldhoff, however, dubbed Femen’s comparison as “completely overblown,” saying that the German and Russian justice systems were hardly comparable. “This isn’t just about the Catholic Church, it’s about free practice of religion in its widest sense, it’s about living together peacefully.”
After the group’s founders fled Ukraine following attacks in 2013, Femen is now based in Paris. Several international branches have become known for organizing topless protests against a host of subjects, including sexism, homophobia and sex tourism.