Tunisia slammed for suspending gay group

Tunis, the capital of Tunisia

Tunis, the capital of Tunisia

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Tunisian authorities’ decision to suspend the activities of LGBT rights group, Shams.

Shams registered with the government’s secretary general in May 2015, as an organisation working to support sexual and gender minorities.

On January 4, the group was informed by a Tunis court that it had been suspended for 30 days following a complaint from the government.

This may be the first step in shutting it down permanently; after the 30 day suspension the court could next order the organisation’s dissolution.

“Shams seeks to carry out basic human rights work, such as standing up for LGBT people who have been victims of violence,” commented Amna Guellali, Tunisia Director at Human Rights Watch. “This suspension denies them the chance to carry out this important work.”

The government claims that Shams is deviating from its original purpose after it said in a recent press release that it will “defend homosexuals.”

The organisation, however, has always stated that it aims “to support sexual minorities materially, morally and psychologically, and to press peacefully for the reform of laws that discriminate against homosexuals.”

Shams has challenged its suspension at the administrative tribunal, a court in charge of settling disputes between citizens and the administration, and is awaiting the decision. An international petition has also been set up calling for the organisation to be allowed to do its work.

Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are illegal in the North African country, with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Earlier this month, six young men jailed for homosexuality for three years were granted their freedom, pending a new trial.

One of the men, a 19-year-old, told Shams that he was “badly beaten and was tortured physically and mentally” by the authorities after his arrest in order to force him to have an anal exam.

He said: “Even after my release from prison I can no longer live: life has gone dark. I can’t communicate with my family or leave my room. My studies are ruined, my life is ruined. I can’t face anyone. My country destroyed me. I am oppressed and broken.”

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