Tunisia accused of ongoing homophobic and transphobic abuse

Despite promising to improve the lot of LGBTQ+ people, the government of Tunisia continues to abuse, arrest and torture sexual and gender minorities.

On Friday, human rights groups called on the North African country to decriminalise consensual same-sex conduct, end forced anal examinations, recognise transgender people, and stop harassing LGBTQ organisations.

Human Rights Watch made the demands along with dozens of local organisations, under the umbrella of the Civil Coalition for Individual Freedoms in Tunisia.

Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, acknowledged that Tunisia had agreed to end forced anal exams and had established a presidential commission that recommended the decriminalisation of same-sex conduct.

“But arrests and forced anal exams continue,” said Ghoshal, “while the state attempts to silence one of the groups vocally condemning these practices.”

The Tunisian government is currently attempting to withdraw the legal registration of a leading Tunisian LGBT rights organisation, Shams, claiming its work on behalf of sexual minorities contravenes “Tunisian society’s Islamic values” and laws that criminalise homosexual acts. The matter is now before the courts.

Article 230 of the penal code punishes consensual same-sex relations with up to three years in prison. Tunisian law also punishes any act the authorities perceive as contrary to “morality” and “decency.” The coalition noted that the police frequently arrest people solely on the basis of non-normative gender expression.

While the Tunisian authorities in 2017 committed to ending anal tests as evidence in homosexuality prosecutions, the courts continue to order this practice, which has no scientific basis and has been condemned by international experts as torture.

Crimes against people perceived to be homosexual or transgender continue in an atmosphere of impunity, the coalition said. Unchecked discrimination prevents LGBT people from enjoying their most basic rights to health, education, work, and to seek legal action against abusers.

The coalition issued a series of recommendations to the Tunisian government. It called on parliament to adopt the draft Code of Individual Freedoms, which was put forward by a group of parliament members in October 2018. The code would provide for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts and a rights-respecting process by which trans people could change their sex marker on legal documents.

The coalition also called on judges to bar the use of anal testing, and for doctors to refuse to conduct anal tests.

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