The Human Rights Watch is calling on the Tunisian government to cease their efforts of shutting down an LGBTI rights group within the country.
According to HRW, Tunisia is fighting a court ruling which granted the LGBTI group Shams the right to operate.
The government is arguing that Shams’ operations violates the Law on Associations. Adopted in 2011, this law requires various groups to ‘respect the principles of the rule of law, democracy, plurality, transparency, equality and human rights’ as outline in Tunisia’s international treaties.
It also prohibits inciting violence, hatred, or discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, or region.
In their objection to Shams, the Tunisian government states the group’s objective to protect sexual minorities goes against ‘Tunisian society’s Islamic values, which reject homosexuality and prohibit such alien behavior’.
Further, because Tunisian law criminalizes homosexuality, the government argues the law does not allow groups that defend such actions to exist.
What happens now?
Shams registered with the government in May 2015 as an organization supporting sexual and gender minorities.
Less than a year later, the government filed a complaint about the group violating the law. A court ordered Shams to suspend activity for 30 days.
On 23 February 2016, the court lifted the suspension, ruling Shams was not in violation of any law.
Part of Shams’ work involves trying to reverse Article 230 of the Penal Code of 1913. This law decrees up to three years of imprisonment for sodomy between consenting adults.
Last year, a special committee recommend either overturning this law or lessening the sentence.
Amna Guellali, Tunisia director at HRW, released a statement about the importance of groups like Sham: ‘If organizations that defend human rights and sexual minorities are shut down, Tunisia’s image as an island of freedom and democracy in the region will take a big hit.’
The government appealed the court’s decision allowing Shams to operate. Authorities subsequently scheduled a hearing for 1 March.