Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called on the Tunisian authorities to cease their discrimination of LGBTI people.
HRW joined with the Civil Coalition for Individual Freedoms in Tunisia in issuing a statement advocating for LGBTI rights in the country.
The groups made the call to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia on Friday (17 May).
There have been significant improvements in LGBTI rights in Tunisia over recent years. However, Tunisia still maintains a law prohibiting sodomy.
People convicted of sodomy under Article 230 of Tunisia’s Penal Code of 1913 face up to three years of imprisonment under the law.
HRW claim that ‘arrests and forced anal exams (of LGBTI people) continue’ in Tunisia.
The statement follows a high-profile case of a man who was given a forced anal exam while in police custody. He was arrested after reporting that he had been raped and robbed.
It also comes as the Tunisian government is pursuing legal action against well-known Tunisian LGBTI rights organization, Association Shams.
‘Arrests and forced anal exams continue’
Neela Ghoshal, a senior LGBT rights researcher at HRW, called out the Tunisian government for not meeting its prior commitments to improving its record on LGBTI rights.
‘Tunisia has taken rhetorical steps toward ending institutionalized discrimination against LGBT people, by agreeing to end forced anal exams and establishing a presidential commission that called for the decriminalization of same-sex conduct,’ Ghoshal said.
‘But arrests and forced anal exams continue, while the state attempts to silence one of the groups (Shams) vocally condemning these practices.’
In 2017, Tunisian authorities committed to ending anal tests as evidence in homosexuality prosecutions. The practice has no scientific basis and has been widely condemned as torture by international experts.
‘Unchecked discrimination prevents LGBT people from enjoying their most basic rights’
A notable case of forced anal examinations still being implemented involved a 22-year-old man known only as Anas. Anas was reportedly arrested after he reported being gang-raped and robbed to police in January.
According to his lawyer, Anas was then sent to hospital and given forced anal examinations to determine if he was gay.
HRW condemned his treatment, and called for the repeal of anti-sodomy law and forced anal examinations.
‘Crimes against people perceived to be homosexual or transgender continue in an atmosphere of impunity,’ the two groups said. ‘Unchecked discrimination prevents LGBT people from enjoying their most basic rights to health, education, work, and to seek legal action against abusers.’
The groups also issued a list of recommendations to the Tunisian government. This included calling on the country’s parliament to adopt the draft Code of Individual Freedoms.
The code would decriminalize homosexual acts and would allow trans individuals to change their sex on legal documents. It had been put forward by a group of parliament members in October last year.
The coalition also called on judges to ‘bar the use of anal testing, and for doctors to refuse to conduct anal tests’.
Sharp increase in arrests
Since the Arab Spring revolution in 2011, Tunisia has seen its LGBTI community thrive.
Four prominent LGBTI rights groups have emerged in the past eight years.
Shams is considered one of the most prolific and well-respected LGBTI rights groups in the Arab world.
However, the group have faced numerous attempts by the authorities to clamp down on their activities.
Earlier this month, the Tunisian government invoked Sharia law in their legal case against Shams.
Shams have condemned the move, describing it as discriminatory and judicial harassment by the government.
The group also reported a sharp increase in the number of people arrested under Tunisia’s anti-sodomy law in 2018.
The groups said that 127 arrests were made last year, compared with 79 in 2017. There have been at least 22 arrests this year.