Tunisia has promised to stop forcing people suspected of being gay to undergo anal examinations.
Homosexuality is still punishable by jail in Tunisia, but its minister for human rights said the invasive practice that was used to determine sexual orientation would now be stopped.
The Minister Mehdi Ben Gharbia said that state authorities carry out the tests but stressed, “these exams can no longer be imposed by force, physical or moral, or without the consent of the person concerned”.
Ben Gharbia did not, however, give a specific date for the change to be implemented.
Ben Gharbia said judges can still request that a suspect undergo the test “but that person has every right to refuse, without his refusal being held up as proof of homosexuality”, under the change.
Tunisia is “committed to protecting the sexual minority from any form of stigmatisation, discrimination, and violence,” the minister insisted.
Cruel but Good
Foreign and local rights groups have condemned the practice of forced anal exams as “cruel” and “inhuman”.
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Amnesty International said that it considers the anal examinations to amount to torture after a human rights review at the UN on 23 September 2017.
Amnesty said the commitment to cease the intrusive practice was welcome, but “deeply” regretted that homosexuality was still illegal in Tunisia.
“Amnesty International welcomed today Tunisia’s acceptance of two recommendations to immediately cease the practice of forced anal examinations and ensure the protection of LGBTQI persons from all forms of stigmatization, discrimination and violence.”
“However the organization deeply regrets Tunisia’s rejection of 14 recommendations relating the decriminalization of same-sex relations,” they added.
While this “promise” was welcomed by human rights activists, it does not go nearly far enough. Homosexuality is still punishable by three years in jail in Tunisia, and LGBT+ individuals in the country face arrests and significant discrimination due to Article 230 of Tunisia’s criminal code, which President Beji Caid Essebsi has said would not be repealed.
Article 230 of the Penal Code was passed in 1913 and later modified in 1964, a year after declaring Tunisia as a one party-state (the Socialist Destourian Party) under President Habib Bourguiba. Private acts of same-sex in Tunisia are illegal between consenting adults and the penalty could reach three years in prison.
Since 2015, Fresh out of the shadows, Shams, the first Tunisian LGBT organisation to be legalised, has been a target of several homophobic critics.
Aside from the fact that the majority of Tunisians believe homosexuality is a mental illness and they openly make jokes about it, there are many who call for murdering them. In 2015, several youths were arrested on charges of homosexuality.
Indeed, in 2016, a number of Tunisian celebrities and well-known figures in the civil society demanded the cancelation of the Article 230 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality. Among those supported the rights of LGBT are Suhair Bin Amara, Sawsen Maalej, Jalila Baccar, Salma Baccar and Raouf Ben Amor.
Awareness Is Increasing but Everywhere?
Throughout West Asia and North Africa, dialogue and awareness surrounding LGBT+ oppression have been gaining greater salience in recent years. Activists, artists and organisations have been challenging traditional societal taboos surrounding sexual identity. In fact, Tunisia’s transition to democracy since a 2011 revolution has allowed for open debate on the situation of its LGBT+ community.
In June, a week-long Pride event was held in Lebanon, which signals an increasing awareness of the rights of LGBT+ community.
Similarly, the massive popularity throughout West Asia and North Africa of the Lebanese indie band Mashrou’ Leila, which sings about LGBT+ themes and has an openly gay lead singer.
In the UAE, gender reassignment surgery was legalised in 2016. This however does not apply to other Gulf States. While Saudi Arabia has finally allowed women to drive, prosecutors in Saudi Arabia are still pushing to enforce the death penalty for homosexuality, holding the belief that social media is turning people gay.
In September 2017, Police have detained seven people for allegedly raising a rainbow flag at a rock gig in Cairo. They have been charged with promoting homosexuality despite it not being an offense under Egyptian law.
The officials said the seven people arrested were responsible for raising the rainbow flag at a gig by popular Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila. They have apparently also been charged with “public indecency” and “inciting immorality among young people.”