More than 1.600 activists have been arrested since the 15th of January due to protesting for LGBT+ rights in Tunisia. These protests are often peaceful, but violence becomes part of it when the local police intervenes. Activists tell HRW how officers often threaten them with rape and murder. “We will keep you here for ten years, and your torture will be our duty,” is what some activists were told during their “interrogation”.
Protesters are not only in danger in the streets, but online as well. Their pictures, home address, phone number and sexuality or gender identity are often made public on social media. The Tunisian activists therefore feel compelled to delete their social media accounts, move to another city or even flee the country. “Police came looking for me in my neighbourhood. My life and physical safety is threatened. My mental health is deteriorating.” Thus Rania Amdouni, a queer feminist activist.
Human Rights Watch interviewed ten LGBT+ rights activists, who’s real names have not been published. Among them, Mariam (25); “They took me to a deserted street and started beating me. They punched me in the eye, slapped, and kicked me. They took my phone and sent insulting messages to my friends and family. Then they pushed me on the street.” Mariam recalls that her private information has been leaked on Facebook. Since then, she has been receiving dozens of messages and voicemails of Tunisians threatening to rape and murder her, with some also calling her a “whore” who “deserves to be gang raped.” After her arrest for flipping her middle finger, a female officer stripped and searched her. She wanted Mariam to open her legs to look “inside her vagina”. “When I refused, she pulled my hair, repeatedly banged my head against the wall, hit me and then cursed at me. I am pending trial now, but terrified to go on the streets alone.”
Theresa (21), a transgender woman, was beaten by police officers during a protest against police brutality. According to Theresa, an officer yelled “You are not one of us, you faggot scum. Sodomites like you are the reason God has not blessed us with rainy seasons!” A large group of policemen began beating her. “They threw me on the ground, and stomped on my head. They kicked me while I was begging them to stop. I ran away, but now I am terrified to leave my house.”
Prisons are overcrowded and LGBT + activists are scared of being arrested and abused. Damino (29), an intersex and queer activist, was harassed multiple times based on their gender expression. “We will do whatever we want with you.” Damino claims one officer told his colleague to “try not to leave visible marks.” “I was terrified because I realized that they are just a gang of men who could physically and sexually assault me with impunity,” they told Human Rights Watch.
Tunisia’s continued crackdown against activists violates their basic rights, including their right to privacy, bodily integrity, free movement and free expression, as well as their right to non-discrimination and protection under the law. Overcrowded prisons also cause a lack of hygiene and a high risk of COVID-19 contamination.
Read the full report by Human Rights Watch here