REPUBLIC OF TUNISIA: Sentencing of six men for same-sex relations highlights state’s entrenched homophobia

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  4. REPUBLIC OF TUNISIA: Sentencing of six men for same-sex relations highlights state’s entrenched homophobia
18 Dec 2015
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Sexual Orientation and Sexual Identity

The jailing of six Tunisian men sentenced to three years in prison for sodomy is a shocking example of deep-rooted state sanctioned discrimination against LGBTI people in the country.

The men, some of them university students, appeared to have been convicted following anal examinations. Such tests are considered by Amnesty International to amount to torture when carried out involuntarily.

The verdict against these men is absolutely shocking, especially at a time when rights groups in Tunisia are increasingly speaking out against the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations.

Nobody should be imprisoned based on their sexual orientation or sexual activity. This case highlights the entrenched levels of state homophobia in the country and how far Tunisia still has to go before LGBTI people can enjoy full sexual and gender identity rights.

The Court of First Instance in the city of Kairouan sentenced the men under Article 230 of the Tunisian Penal Code which criminalizes sodomy and lesbianism, and carries a maximum prison term of three years. One of the men was additionally sentenced to six months in prison for indecency after police found a pornographic video on his computer.

According to LGBTI activists following the case, the six men were arrested on 2 December after the police raided a house in which they were having a gathering. They appeared before the court on 10 December. Only one of the men was represented by a lawyer at the time.

The men have also been banned from residing in Kairouan for a period of five years under Articles 5 and 22 of the Penal Code, a ban which will come into force when they have completed their prison sentences. According to a lawyer involved in the case, this is the first known case in which such punishment has been used in recent years. 

The fact that, in 2015, a Tunisian court can still jail six young men for same-sex relations and punish them with banishment shows how taboo same-sex relationships still are in Tunisia. Banning them from residing in the city sets a dangerous precedent and is likely to lead to further stigmatisation.

This verdict makes nonsense of the country’s own Constitution which includes important safeguards that protect the rights of LGBTI people, guaranteeing the right to a private life and freedom of expression, thought and opinion.

Ultimately it is only through undertaking urgent substantial review of the Penal Code and decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations once and for all that the Tunisian authorities will have any hope of providing adequate protection against violence and safeguarding against discrimination.

Amnesty International considers people who are arrested and detained solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to be prisoners of conscience, and is urging the Tunisian authorities to release the men and quash the convictions immediately.

14 December 2015

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