Tunisia: LGBT activist’s assault seen as a pattern by police

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12/11/21

A prominent LGBTQ activist in Tunisia has reported that two men, one dressed in police uniform, threw him to the ground, beat and kicked him during an assault they said was punishment for his “insulting” attempts to file complaints against officers for the previous mistreatment. “This was not the first time that I had been attacked by a policeman, but I was really surprised. The attack was horrifying,” Badr Baabou, president of the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality, or Damj, said. “They aimed for my head… at a moment they stood on my neck. This was very symbolic for me, as if they wanted to reduce me to silence.” The Oct. 21 attack in Tunisia’s capital left Baabou with welts and bruises on his face and body. He said that neck trauma caused difficulty breathing and that his assailants took his laptop, phone, and wallet. Police have not publicly commented on Baabou’s account, although his lawyer says an internal police investigation is underway. Police violence is among the myriad challenges that LGBTQ people experience in Tunisia. Observers say officers who can dispense beatings with impunity are becoming increasingly brazen. Homosexual activity in the North African country remains a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison. Sexual relations involving individuals of the same sex also are illegal in most Middle-East-North Africa regions, although public attitudes toward LGBTQ rights vary according to each country’s socio-economic context and religious doctrines. A 2019 study by the Arab Barometer showed that acceptance of homosexuality is low or extremely low across the region. In Algeria, the 26% of respondents who said being gay was acceptable represented the highest share in the region. Although there are signs that attitudes towards Tunisia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are improving, activists say police grew emboldened following antigovernment protests this year as the country’s economy flailed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Interior Ministry and the leading police union did not respond to requests for comment on activists’ charges.

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