Despite appeals by Amnesty, journalists and diplomats, Tunisia's Human Rights minister stands by his words that gays are sick and their freedom of expression should be limited
Tunisia's minister for human rights Samir Dilou is sticking by the homophobic statement he made on celebrity host Samir Wafi’s TV talkshow on 4 February despite domestic and international pressure.
His press secretary Chakib Darouiche insisted via Tunisia-Live that Dilou believes being gay is ilness rather than a human right and their freedom of expression should be limited.
'Dilou believes that Tunisia’s distinctiveness as an Arab-Muslim society must be respected. We are not inciting anybody against homosexuals,' Darouiche explained.
Dilou’s reiteration comes as a response to a letter by Amnesty International that urged the human rights minister to publically retract his 'damaging and discriminatory comments about homosexuality, and commit to upholding the human rights of all Tunisians.'
Amesty further urged the repeal of 'Article 230 of the Tunisian Criminal Code which makes consensual sex between members of the same sex a criminal offence, punishable with six months to three years imprisonment.'
Finally it called for 'the principle of non-discrimination to be enshrined in the new constitution including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.'
The letter reminded Dilou that homosexuality is not classified as a disease or perversion by Word Health Oganization or any internationally recognized classification systems.
Fadi, editor and founder of GayDay Magazine expressed his concern: ‘The law means that we are at constant risk of arrest and blackmail. The magazine and other forms of expression allow us to communicate and also see ourselves in a positive non-judgmental manner and that which the minister would like to silence.
'Instead he’d rather have us accept that we are sick and need curing. That contradicts the minister’s acknowledged responsibility to protect us from harm. Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to grow up feeling like you’re alone because of a terrible burden. I knew I liked men from a young age but everyone and everything around me told me that what I felt was sinful and sick.
'I didn’t have access to any resources what so ever, except religious books that filled the house and instilled within me further sense of self-disgust and what I feel is against the values and laws of my culture – I felt like a criminal.'
Fadi recalls : ‘My teenage years were burdened by the feeling of overwhelming guilt and self-hate. I tried to 'it in” and “act straight, date girls and imitate what other boys I thought should do.
'It wasn’t fun. It felt like I was I wearing a mask, acting a role, that I was lying the whole time, to myself to my parents and my friends.'
In his early adulthood Fadi read about LGBT pepole and met others like him on and off off line.
He told Gay Star News: 'I realized eventually that I had a name for what I felt, I am gay. And there are other people like me and its ok to be who I am.
'This changed my life – my guilt and self-hate disappeared and felt a lot calmer and at peace within myself. I can only imagine that if I did not go through this, I might, like many teenagers grow up into a self-hating adult who could harm himself and others.
'I was thrilled by my reading about the Arab Muslim poet and scholar Abu Nawas, Omar Khayyam and politician Mustapha Kemal Atta Turc and how they were quite open about their homosexuality or bisexuality.
'I found out many famous people were gay or lesbian and had immense contributions to our Arab culture and Islamic values. I am proud to be gay, Arab and Muslim and feel at peace and harmony between all these aspects of myself.’
Fadi however positive and self-healed is clear about the current limits forced upon him: ‘I still have to wear a mask and lie as the law may have me arrested at any moment, besides I can be blackmailed or outed to my parents and the community which may entail me becoming a social outcast with loss of family ties and job prospects.
'Despite me feeling ok about myself I still have to live a lie which seems is what Minister Dilou precisely wants people like me to do. He doesn’t want legal reform and further still wants to prevent people from discovering who they are, sharing and learning to self-accept and have positive regard and compassion through mediums like Tunisia’s GayDay Magazine.
'He in effect wants to put us and others in danger, by instilling in us the idea we are sick outlaws fuelling self-disgust and hate and social intolerance at large, both are medically proven to lead to self harm and destructiveness. Many teenagers commit suicide or crippled for life by such harmful negative self-regard.’
Fadi also has a direct message for minister Dilou: ‘You say our very being crosses the “red lines that are defined by our culture, religion and heritage".
'Yet we are an integral part of, and positively contribute to it!
'I’d like to ask you, Mr Dilou, if you think the great people I cited earlier were sick and should have been denied freedom of expression?
'You should realize that this contradicts you stated position that he is calling for us not to be harmed, because it does exactly that. Amnesty is surely right to point out it contributes to dangerous and risky sexual behavior that increases HIV infection.
'If you knows all this, would you not agree that rather us being ill the situation above is dangerous and itself causing social and psychological malaise?
'I would like to ask you to kindly read this and Amnesty’s letter closely again and reconsider your statement, surely you are not adovcating all the damage stated above.’