HUFFINGTON POST

Tunisian LGBT Activist: Gay Community Is Persecuted As So-Called Progressives Stay Silent

arab spring protestors in silhouette with crescent moon and star sign, square frame (XXXL)
arab spring protestors in silhouette with crescent moon and star sign, square frame (XXXL)

A 22-year-old male Tunisian student was sentenced Tuesday to one year in prison for having sexual relations with a man, in accordance with Article 230 of the country's penal code, which criminalizes homosexuality.

He was forced to “undergo an anal exam against his will,” his lawyer said in a statement, to verify that he'd had sexual relations with a man. "It's a harsh but unsurprising sentence," the lawyer told HuffPost Tunisia.

The incident sparked outrage among Tunisia's growing community of LGBT activists. For Badr Baabou, an activist and co-founder of the Tunisian Association for Equality and Justice, an organization working to advance the rights of sexual minorities, the sentence "resembles one from the [Spanish] Inquisition."

HuffPost Tunisia spoke to Baabou about the social and political environment Tunisia's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community has to contend with.

What are your thoughts on the verdict? Were you expecting such a sentence? We are clearly outraged and shocked with the methods used as well as the sentence itself.

The public prosecutor's department ordered that the young man be submitted to an anal exam, disregarding Article 23 of the constitution, which guarantees respect of human dignity, one's physical integrity, and prohibits physical and psychological torture, as well as Article 24, which deals with the protection of private life. It's a humiliating and degrading practice that resembles torture, as it leads to physical and mental damage.

It should be noted that the young man did not give his consent. He was forced, harassed into getting the exam. Another flagrant violation of the law, which requires the suspect's consent for this type of exam.

As for the sentence of one year in prison, that is unfortunately predictable and standard in matters related to homosexuality. We have come across several similar incidents. The punishment can go up to more than three years, even in cases of "repeat offenders." The worst thing is that people are stopped on the street. The police stop them not in flagrante delicto [caught in the act], but based solely on appearance. If they observe that someone has a "slightly mannered" way about them, they proceed to arrest them. What constitution, what individual liberties are we speaking about if they go unheeded? It's inhumane and illegal.

What are your plans going forward? A meeting between civil society groups working in the field has been scheduled for Monday, in order to coordinate our actions. We need to apply pressure on other national organizations such as the Tunisian Human Rights League, as well as elected representatives in order to raise awareness of the need to put an end to this disgrace.

Unfortunately, even those that we call progressives are in denial when it comes to the LGBT cause.

How do you explain this "denial"? There are those who quite simply don't believe in it. There are others that believe in it but think that it’s too soon to talk about it, that we need to ease in the situation, to go about it gently. However, by waiting for the right moment, we never talk about it, and the persecution of gays is continuing amidst total indifference.

There are also political figures who, for purely electoral and populist reasons, choose to keep quiet because they think that they will be discredited in the eyes of the public for talking about homosexuality. Cowardice is paralyzing our “progressives."

This article originally appeared on HuffPost Maghreb and was translated into English.

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