Tunisia jails six students for 'sodomy'

Tunisia jails six students for 'sodomy'
The students have been sentenced to three years in jail, in a judgement heavily criticised by a number of human rights organisations.
3 min read
15 December, 2015
Many rights groups have condemned the sentencing in Tunisia [Getty]

A group of six students have each been sentenced to three years in jail on charges of homosexuality, in a judgment condemned by rights activists.

The six were also banned from the city of Kairouan for five years after they complete their sentences.

The court in the central city handed down the maximum term under a controversial article of the criminal code that criminalises sex between males, their lawyer, Boutheina Karkni, said on Monday.

The young men were detained in November and December after "neighbours denounced them" and were made to undergo anal examinations.

Karkni described the ruling as "extremely harsh" and said an appeal hearing should take place "in two to three weeks" in the nearby coastal city of Sousse.

One defendant was handed an extra six months behind bars for "offensive" videos found on his computer, huffpostmaghreb reported.

State's 'entrenched homophobia'

     Nobody should be imprisoned based on their sexual orientation or sexual activity
- Amnesty International

Amnesty International denounced the ruling as "a shocking example of deep-rooted state-sanctioned discrimination".

It said anal examinations "amount to torture when carried out involuntarily", and called for the immediate and unconditional release of the six.

"The verdict against these men is absolutely shocking, especially at a time when rights groups in Tunisia are increasingly speaking out against the criminalisation of same-sex sexual relations," said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Nobody should be imprisoned based on their sexual orientation or sexual activity. This case highlights the entrenched levels of state homophobia in the country and how far Tunisia still has to go before LGBTI people can enjoy full sexual and gender identity rights," Boumedouha added.

Local rights group Shams, which calls for decriminalising homosexuality in Tunisia by revising Article 230 of the penal code, condemned the judgment.

Human Rights Watch's country director also denounced the ruling as "a grave case of infringement on people's private lives and physical integrity".

Amna Guellali described the sentences, which included the "extremely rare" penalty of "banishment", as "mediaeval and not consistent with Tunisia's evolution".

Balkis Mechri of the local Human Rights League agreed.

"The banishment really is scandalous," she said, calling on civil society to "react strongly" to the ruling.

'Upholding the law'

But interior ministry spokesman Walid Louguini defended the judgement.

"Our job is to uphold the law," radio station Shems FM reported him as saying.

In September, a court sentenced a student to a year behind bars in Sousse on charges of homosexuality, after he was also examined anally.

He was released in November pending an appeal hearing expected on Thursday.

After the September judgment, then-justice minister Salah Ben Aissa made a controversial call for Article 230 to be scrapped. He was sacked in October.