This article was published on August 12th, 2020
A court in Tunisia has recently sentenced two men accused of sodomy to two years in prison, a decision that – according to the group Human Rights Watch – violates the men’s rights to privacy and nondiscrimination under Tunisia’s 2014 constitution and international law. An appeals court has reduced the sentence for each man to one year in prison.
The Tunisian police arrested the men – both 26 – on suspicion of same-sex conduct ion June 3 in the city of Le Kef, about 175 kilometers southwest of Tunis, the capital. The arrest came after one of the men filed an unrelated complaint against the other regarding an outstanding loan. The first court date, on June 6, sentenced both men under article 230 of the penal code which punishes sodomy with up to three years in prison. Human Rights Watch reviewed the lower court’s decision, concluding that the sentencing was based on alleged confessions during the police investigation.
Both defendants repudiated these alleged confessions before the court. Rasha Younes, an LGBTQ rights researcher for Human Rights Watch responded to the case:
“The court’s insistence on upholding sodomy charges against the defendants and locking them up for one year is a grave injustice. 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.”
The lawyer that represented both men, Hassina Darraji, issued a statement which included further details into the men’s accounts that there were bullied, insulted and threatened by the police in an effort to force them to confess to being gay. Further attempt to persuade them included an anal exam to test for sodomy, which both men refused. Both defendants in the case pleaded not guilty to all charges and refuted the allegations related to their sexual orientation.
According to Darraji, the men’s refusal to agree to an anal exam is protected by their rights to privacy and bodily integrity under the Tunisian constitution and therefore inadmissible evidence in the case. The court was also told by Darraji that the police further discriminated against one of the defendants during the preliminary investigation by stating that his appearance indicated his sexual orientation. The written decision has yet to be published, but will include the appeal court’s reasoning behind the verdict.
Currently, the two men are being held at a prison near Tunis, in Ben Arous according to an LGBTQ+ organization based in the country. The presiding judge has handed down harsh sentences in the past for sodomy in recent years, including sentencing six students in 2015 to three years in prison on homosexuality charges in the town of Kairouan. The students were subsequently banned for three years from the town after being released from prison.
Human Rights Watch is closely watching this case and their representative Rasha Younes issued a further statement about the direction of the country:
“Tunisia should send a strong message against arbitrary convictions under archaic sodomy laws and release the two men immediately.”