Yamina Thabet, a medical intern, who has received death threats as a result of her activism, told MEPs that the Tunisian criminal code still classifies homosexuality as on offence, carrying with it a three year prison sentence. This is in stark contrast to the optimism that emerged in Tunisia after the Arab Spring, and Tunisia’s 2014 Constitution requiring that human and civil rights to be respected.
Earlier this year Shams, an NGO working for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Tunisia, was ordered by the Tunisian Court to suspend its activities.
Yamina Thabet from ATSM (Association Tunisienne de Soutien des Minorités) said:
“Even though Tunisia is praised as the region’s most progressive country, human rights violations continue to take place every day”
“Why are (presumed) homosexual people still jailed, based on evidence gathered in ways which violate the constitutional right to privacy? Why are invasive anal tests still commonplace, even though torture is expressly forbidden? How can a country in which there is now a constitutional right to freedom of expression and association ban the activities of a Non-Governmental Organisation (SHAMS) which is working to enforce these rights? ”
“One of the main improvements of the revolution is that we can criticize this, inside Tunisia as well as outside. Freedom of speech is considered one of the most important freedoms, that has given our association the possibility of fighting this fight, and asking since 2011 for decriminalisation of homosexuality.”
Ian Duncan MEP, who invited Yamina to Brussels after a visit to Tunisia in November, commented:
“Tunisia has made great strides in recent years, and is rightly proud that the ‘Tunisian Quartet’ was awarded the Noble Peace Prize just a few months ago, but there is much work left to be done.”
“Prosecuting individuals for who they are is never acceptable, and the Tunisian constitution recognises that. It is time for the justice system to catch up. I discussed this important issue with the Tunisian Prime Minister last year and will continue to press for the Constitution to be respected.”
“The EU has an important role to play, indeed just next week we are debating the latest stage in the proposed EU-Tunisia free-trade deal, and I want the LGBTi community in Tunisia to know that constitutional rights mean nothing unless they are respected”
In January 2011 the President of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, left office after a period of civil resistance. In the following years Tunisia began the journey towards democracy, and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the ‘Tunisian Quartet’ in 2015.
One of the key developments was the creation of the 2014 Constitution. It has been hailed as the most progressive constitution in the Arab world, guaranteeing key civil and political rights. These include the rights to freedom of expression and association, the right to freedom of assembly; the right to bodily integrity and to fair trial and freedom from arbitrary detention and torture.
However homosexuality continues to be criminalised under Article 230 of the Penal Code.