Tunisian justice minister seeks repeal of gay sex ban

Mohamed Salah ben Aissa, Tunisian justice minister (Photo courtesy of BusinessNews.com.tn)
Mohamed Salah ben Aissa, Tunisian justice minister (Photo courtesy of BusinessNews.com.tn)

Tunisia’s justice minister yesterday called for repeal of the country’s law against male-male sexual relations.

Mohamed Salah Ben Aissa said Article 230, which provides for three years in prison for consensual sex between men, is one of several laws that are inconsistent with the country’s new, progressive Constitution.

During an interview on the Shems FM radio station, Ben Aissa said that the legislature should repeal Article 230 out of respect for individual freedoms and privacy.

His remarks came at a time with Tunisia is the focus of international criticism for a one-year prison sentence imposed Sept. 22 on a 22-year-old student convicted of sodomy.

[Editor’s update from October 2015: Less than a month after Ben Aissa made that statement on Sept. 28, he was forced out of office. The government’s spokesperson explained Ben Aissa’s Oct. 20 dismissal by saying that he had made several public statements that “lacked seriousness.”]

Graphic from Shams, which seeks the repeal of Tunisia's Article 230.
Graphic from the Tunisian advocacy group Shams, which seeks the repeal of Article 230.

Baabu Badr, president of the Damj Association for Justice and Equality, welcomed Ben Aissa’s statement, but noted that taking that position is easier for a justice minister than for legislators who must calculate how such a stance would affect their chances of re-election.

L’Express reported that “So far, only the progressive left party Al Massar, which has not won a seat in the Assembly of People’s Representatives, has given its support to this cause. The subject nevertheless was raised by MPs on Tuesday at the meeting of the Committee on Rights and Freedoms. Its president, Belhaj Hamida Bochra, acknowledged that Tunisia had ‘an outdated legal framework,’ indicating that it must ‘be revised to be consistent with the Constitution.’ ”

Ahmed Ben Amor, vice president of the Shams association, which fights for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Tunisia, said 500 people are currently in prison in Tunisia for sodomy: “There are about 50 arrests a year, according to our calculations,” he said.

 

 

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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