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Tunisia’s LGBT activists push forward

The LGBT community in Tunisia is seeking to abolish Article 230 — which bans sodomy and under which homosexuals are arrested — despite little support from the government and society.

The Shams group, Tunisia’s first LGBT organization, planned to protest outside Tunisia’s parliament building in the Bardo neighborhood of Tunis, the nation’s capital. Members of the group and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) allies planned the demonstration for Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day. Dec. 10 was also the day that Marwen (pseudonym), a 22-year old gay Tunisian man from Sousse, imprisoned in September for committing homosexual acts in private, was up for appeal in his case against the justice system. His appeal was postponed until Dec. 17, as the judge announced he would decide the case by then.

Two days before the planned demonstration, Tunisia’s Bardo police precinct told the Shams group it would not be allowed to protest because "this perversion cannot be allowed" and indicated that Shams should "go to another country" to do it, Ahmed Ben Amor, a Shams vice president, told Al-Monitor. Then, in a fateful twist of events, with Shams’ protest request already denied by the police and Marwen’s appeal postponed, on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, six young men were arrested in their university dormitory in Kairouan and sentenced to three years each in prison on charges of sodomy. Shams called for protest against these new arrests, but with the state of emergency, the route forward remains unclear. Although the mere existence of an LGBT group in Tunisia and Marwen’s potential release are solid signs of progress, gay rights activists face a long, uphill battle in claiming equal rights in their country.

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