Six students accused of homosexuality have been sentenced to up to three years in prison by a Tunisian court.
The court also banned the students from their city for three years after their release. Following a condemnation by human rights activists, the court reduced the sentence for one of the men to two months.
On December 10, a Tunisian court announced a three-year sentence to prison for six male students allegedly involved in acts of sodomy on campus. The court banned them from their native town of Kairouan three years post-release under penal code article 5, although according to the students’ lawyer, criminalizing homosexuality violates international law. The six young men were detained for the last two months and forced to take unwarranted anal examinations.
The country’s constitution, which has privacy and nondiscrimination orders, comes in direct contrast with the criminal code of the country that criminalizes homosexuality. Human Rights Watch said the government needs to repeal the controversial article 230 of the penal code that criminalizes sodomy.
Following the court’s ruling, a total of 13 human rights groups in the country demanded that the law be withdrawn or revised. Human Right Watch expressed their condemnation:
“While Tunisians were celebrating the Nobel Prize for the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet on Human Rights Day, a Tunisian court was handing down a medieval sentence to six students on the basis of a gross invasion of their private life and bodily integrity,”Amna Guellali, the local director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
The same source said that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that the detainment of adults for same-sex consensual sex is arbitrary. HRW also said that anal examinations disrespect people’s right to dignity and integrity and that the Ministry of Justice needs to prohibit the physical examination of suspects as a way of identifying their sexual orientation.
Boutheina Karkni, the six men’s lawyer, said the court decision was “extremely harsh.” Amnesty International also condemned the ruling, describing it as “a shocking example of deep-rooted state sanctioned discrimination” and comparing physical examinations to “torture when carried out involuntarily”, the Guardian reports. Tunisian human rights groups denounced the anal examinations, characterizing them ‘scandalous’.
On December 17th, one man’s sentence was reduced from twelve months to just two. The man that goes by the nickname Marwen also had to pay a $140 fine. The police originally arrested Marwen for a murder because his phone number was found on the victim. Although Marwen said he was not involved in the criminal act, he admitted to having intercourse with the man, News 24 says. He was then forced to undergo physical examinations to confirm his testimony.
In September, the Tunisian Medical Syndicate condemned the use of physical examination while the Minister of Justice at the time, Mohamed Salah ben Aissa, announce that it contravenes with the constitution. He was fired in October before making a directive order to repeal Article 230.
The country’s president, Beji Caid Essebsi, did not want to intervene in the work of the judicial system. He commented that banning these men was unreasonable and that:
“[T]here are things that human beings cannot accept.”
The six students at Rakkada University in Kairouan were denounced and turned in by their neighbors, North Africa Post says. Tunisia is member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which considers the prosecution of consensual adults a violation of their rights to privacy.