Tunisia has prosecuted seven men for consensual same-sex intercourse and forcing some to undergo anal examinations, a leading human rights organisation has claimed.
Homosexual relationships and acts are a criminal offence in the country, under article 230 of the penal code which criminalises “sodomy” with up to three years in prison. Over the course of the last six months, at least seven men have been convicted of consensual same-sex acts. Many of the men claim that they have also been beaten, humiliated and forced to undergo anal examinations by authorities.
Forced anal examinations are prohibited under the Convention against Torture, the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. They are widely regarded within the medical industry as being flawed and not being a reliable means of ascertaining whether intercourse has occurred.
Human Rights Watch claims that the apartment of six students was raided by police in December after the men were accused of committing homosexual acts. A judicial police report allegedly recorded that authorities had received a tip off that “a number of homosexuals are using a house in Kairouan to do sodomy.”
The men were arrested and say they were beaten and subjected to homophobic remarks, before being taken to a public hospital where they were forced to undergo anal examinations by doctors.
One student said: “I was the first to enter the room where the doctor was. I asked the doctor, ‘What is the test?’ He said, ‘A test like a woman’- meaning a virginity test.
“I said: ‘No, I will not do that test.’ The policeman screamed at me, ‘Respect the doctor!’ I said, ‘I am respecting the doctor, but I refuse the test.
I felt like I was an animal, because I felt like I didn’t have any respect. I felt like they were violating me.
Alleged victim of forced anal examination
“Then the policeman took me outside to a small garden. He hit me. He slapped me on the face and punched me on the shoulder and said ‘You will do the test’. The doctor was not watching, but he knew I was being beaten. The policeman pushed me back into the room and said to the doctor, ‘He will do the test’.”
He described his distress at the examination performed on him, alleging: “The doctor told me to go on an examination table and said, ‘Stay like you’re praying’ [in the typical Muslim prayer position]. I took my pants off and had to get on the table.
“He entered one finger inside my anus, with cream on it. He put his finger in and was looking. While putting his finger in, he said, ‘Are you ok now’, I said, ‘No I’m not okay’, it was painful.
“Then he put in a tube. It was to see if there was sperm. He pushed the tube far inside. It was about the length of a finger. It felt painful. I felt like I was an animal, because I felt like I didn’t have any respect. I felt like they were violating me. I feel that up to now. It’s very hard for me.”
Another student described how the abuses continued while in custody, alleging: “They started beating us, lined us up against the wall and shaved our heads… A policeman kicked us one by one, saying, ‘These are your asses that you gave up.’ One of us, when he was being shaved was bleeding from the nose due to stress. They just continued shaving him.
“The prison guards would call us out and take us to an open area and ask us to walk or dance like women, and if we didn’t do it, we would be slapped. I was forced to do it. They slapped me to make me do it. A prison guard took a baton and broke it on my hand because I wouldn’t dance. They would do that three or four times a week.
“When the guards were bored they would take us out with handcuffs and beat us. They even poked batons into our anuses, with our clothes on.”
The prison guards would call us out and take us to an open area and ask us to walk or dance like women, and if we didn’t do it, we would be slapped.
The results of these forced anal examinations were later presented in court as forensic evidence that “sodomy” had occurred. A numbr of the students were sentenced to three years in prison and then banished from the local city for a further three years.
The sentences were later reduced to one or two months each. One student told the charity: “Physical pain goes away, but the psychological and emotional pain does not go away.”
Human Rights Watch has called on the Tunisian parliament to cease using anal examinations as forensic evidence and to urgently decriminalise homosexuality. Amnesty International has also criticized the penal code, previously saying of the students’ arrests: “Ultimately, only through repealing Article 230 of the Penal Code and decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations once and for all will the Tunisian authorities have any hope of providing adequate protection against violence and safeguarding against discrimination.”