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Samira Bellil, French Author and Rights Activist, Dies

Associated Press
Thursday, September 9, 2004; Page B06

Samira Bellil, 31, a prominent campaigner for the rights of French Muslim women who gained fame with a book recounting gang rapes she suffered as a teenager, died of stomach cancer Sept. 3, her publisher, Editions Denoel, said yesterday in Paris.

Ms. Bellil's 2002 autobiographical narrative, "Dans l'Enfer des Tournantes" (In the Hell of Gang Rape), explores the violence and drugs she endured during her childhood in a tough Parisian suburb and describes being gang-raped at age 13.

The book was the final step in her fight to regain a sense of self-worth after having been rejected and abused for bringing charges against her aggressors and refusing to suffer silently, according to her publishing house.

"With the book, I really was able to end 15 years of silence," she had said.

The book was published a month after the death of a 17-year-old girl who was set afire by a young man in the garbage shed of a southern Paris high-rise. That tragedy, like Ms. Bellil's book, gave a boost to the movement fighting for the rights of young girls.

Ms. Bellil was born in Algeria and grew up in Seine-Saint-Denis outside Paris, a heavily immigrant region where gangs flourish. In the book and interviews, she recounts unblinkingly her descent into violence that permeated her life.

She was active in the movement Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Submissive), which fights for the rights of women in the suburbs, where men -- and the law of silence -- sometimes rule.

France's minister for victims' rights, Nicole Guedj, praised Ms. Bellil's courage.

"The memory of her courage and the force with which she dared to denounce the reality of gang rapes will be with me in my willingness to fight the humiliations suffered by women who are the victims of sexual violence," Guedj said in a statement.

Survivors include her mother and two sisters.

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