Tunisia’s highest court upheld the conviction of two 26-year-old men accused of having same-sex relations, while cutting their sentence in half.
Rabat – Tunisia’s highest appeals court upheld a prominent conviction against two 26-year-old Tunisian men, according to a Human Rights Watch report published on August 5. The court ruled on the earlier conviction of two citizens of El Kef, who had been charged with sodomy charges under article 230 of the Tunisian penal code.
The two men charged were arrested in El Kef, in northwestern Tunisia, in early June. The court sentenced them to two years in prison on June 6. The ruling was based on Tunisia’s criminal code, which outlaws same-sex relationships. The penal code dictates a maximum sentence of three years in prison. While the Court of Cassation, Tunisia’s highest instance court, upheld the conviction, it reduced the initial sentence of two years’ imprisonment to one year.
International NGO Human Rights Watch has accused the courts of discrimination, violating international law and the men’s constitutional rights. According to the NGO’s reporting, the men faced bullying, insults, and threats in order to coerce a confession. HRW alleges officials attempted to pressure the men into undergoing an anal exam to prove their sexual orientation.
Following their arrest, Tunisian police threatened the men into confessing and used their appearance as an indicator of their sexual orientation, their lawyer, Hassina Darraji, told Human Rights Watch. The defendants repudiated the confessions in court.
“The court’s insistence on upholding sodomy charges against the defendants and locking them up for one year is a grave injustice,” wrote Rasha Younes, an LGBT rights researcher for the NGO, in the report. “Tunisia needs to step up to its image as a guardian of individual freedoms and stop convicting people under article 230, while acting swiftly to abolish this law altogether.”
LGBT Rights in Tunisia
This is the first time an LGBT rights case has made it to Tunisia’s highest court. The ruling appears to mark a sad ending to a tumultuous year for the country’s LGBT community.
In August 2019, openly-gay lawyer Mounir Baatour became one of 53 candidates in Tunisia’s presidential elections. Many international observers considered his candidacy a step forward for the country.
But many local LGBT activists were part of the opposition to Baatour’s candidacy, which organized a petition to stop his political campaign. Many in the local LGBT community disapproved of Baatour’s pro-LGBT organization’s methods, his personal choices, and his support for the normalization of ties with Israel.