Discrimination Normalised: the increase in persecution of the Tunisian LGBT Community

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ARTICLE 19

17 May 2016

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Slim Bahrini

Over the last nine months, Tunisia has witnessed increasing human rights violations and persecution against the LGBT community.

On September 6 2015, Marwen (Pseudonym) a 22-year-old student was imprisoned for committing homosexual acts in private in Sousse. The first instance tribunal sentenced him to one year in prison for sodomy, based on a rectal examination, though the appeal court reduced the sentence to 2 months in prison.

On December 10 2015, six university students in Kairouan between the ages of 18 and 19 were sentenced to three years in prison and five years banishment from Kairouan on charges of ‘‘homosexual acts''. All six were reportedly subjected to an enforced rectal examination (a practice which amounts to torture), as well as beating and threats.

On 14 April 2016, a Tunisian actor made homophobic remarks on live television, expressing his belief that homosexuality is a sickness, and that, as an Islamic country, Tunisia’s constitution forbids homosexuality; a belief seemingly shared by 64.5% of Tunisians according to a recent survey by ELKA consulting.

Responding to the normalisation of such homophobic comments, the Vice President of Shams, Tunisia’s first LGBT activist organisation, appeared live on Television, on El Hiwar Ettounsi, to condemn the actor’s comments. This appearance, the first time an entire episode of a talk show in Tunisia had been dedicated to the discussion of LGBT rights, kicked off a controversy, which continues even now.

Following the show, images were shared, across social media platforms, of restaurants, internet cafes, shops, and even taxis, displaying signs that homosexuals were banned from entry. Members of the National Guard also posted images posed with weapons next to homophobic signs and texts. Some even called for homosexuals to be ‘burned to death’. In response, some members of the army, National Guard, and police posted pictures in their uniform with their weapons next to sign and text saying that ‘’Gays are Tunisians and we are here to protect Tunisians’’.

Last month two men, one a member of Shams, was attacked, while another has reported being verbally harassed. Ramy Ayari, a prominent LGBT activist who caused controversy on social media in September 2015 for posting a photo of himself kissing a man, also was beaten and kicked in the face in a homophobic attack by off-duty police officers outside a nightclub in Gammarth.

On 29 April 2016, during the Friday prayer, an Imam in Sfax announced that the state has the authority to execute every homosexual, saying that homosexuality is a disease for which the remedy is death. He then explained how they should be executed.

Despite the increasing threat they have been posing to the security of the LGBT community, the President of DAMJ, Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality, has announced that there has been some success in detecting fake profiles of police men, created in attempts to track and entrap members of the LGBT community, across various social media platforms. DAMJ are also warning the community about these false profiles.

Most of the prosecutions of LGBT individuals are under the article 230 of the penal code, which criminalizes “sodomy” with up to three years in prison. These activtely go against the Tunisian constitution: Article 21 says that, “All citizens, male and female are equal in rights and duties, and are equal before the law without discrimination.” Article 23 states that “the State shall protect human dignity and physical integrity and shall prevent psychological and physical torture.” And Article 24 declares that “the State shall protect the right to a private life, sanctity of domiciles, confidentiality of correspondence and communications and personal information.

Today is the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT), a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities. IDAHOT is an annual landmark to draw attention to the alarming situation faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and all those who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms.

On this day, we must join the call for an end to the violation of the rights of LGBTQI individuals, and demand equal rights for all, including the right to express identity and sexuality with discrimination or fear.

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