Human Rights Watch has documented the appalling abuse of gay men and men perceived to be homosexual by Tunisia’s police.
According to the organisation, Tunisia prosecuted at least seven men for consensual same-sex conduct in two prominent cases over the last six months.
The men were convicted under article 230 of the penal code, which criminalises “sodomy” with up to three years in prison.
Human Rights Watch interviewed five of the men who had been sentenced.
All of them claimed that police had subjected them to grave human rights abuses, including beatings, forced anal examinations, and routine humiliating treatment.
The five told Human Rights Watch that the abuse traumatised them and at least four said that their families and communities had rejected them.
“Physical pain goes away, but the psychological and emotional pain does not go away,” one student said.
Another man reported that police “started saying we are gay, and we denied it and said we don’t have gay practices. Then they started slapping, kicking and beating us all together.”
A victim described being forced to undergo a humiliating anal exam. “It felt painful. I felt like I was an animal, because I felt like I didn’t have any respect. I felt like they were violating me. I feel that up to now. It’s very hard for me,” he said.
Anal exams have no medical or scientific value in determining whether consensual anal sex has taken place. They also constitute a form of torture or cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment and are prohibited under the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
“The Tunisian government has no business intruding on people’s private sexual behaviour and brutalising and humiliating them under the pretext of enforcing a discriminatory law,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia director. “Tunisia should remove such archaic laws from its books, and the police who mistreated these men should be held accountable.”
The government should take steps to repeal the criminalisation of homosexuality and issue a directive ordering an immediate end to anal examinations as part of police investigative procedures to determine a person’s sexual behaviour, Human Rights Watch said.
The group also called for an investigation into reports of ill-treatment, including establishing a confidential complaint mechanism for all cases of abuse by police officers.