Tunisia: Death threats against LGBT activists

The Huffington Post Mahgreb/Tunisia reports death threats against the vice-president and other members of the LGBT association Shams:

Hedi Sahly, vice-president of “Shams” has left Tunisia due to death threats. (Interview)

Hedi Sahly, vice president of "Shams" (Photo coutesy of EtatsGenerauxLGBTI.fr)
Hedi Sahly, vice president of Shams (Photo courtesy of EtatsGenerauxLGBTI.fr)

Hedi Sahly, vice-president of Shams, an association for the decriminalization of homosexuality, has left Tunisia following death threats. Since its creation and legal registration, Shams had been controversial  due to former minister and MP Ennahda challenging this status which he deemed “dangerous for the social peace.”

Shams members have openly appeared in media to demand the repeal of Article 230, criminalizing homosexuality. Recognition and threats have resulted from these media appearances.

Contacted by HuffPost Tunisie, Hedi Sahly explains his reasons for leaving:

HuffPost Tunisia: Why did you leave the country?

This is not the first time I got death threats and I am not alone. But this time, the danger was such that I was asked by my family to leave the country quickly.  My uncle, working at the Ministry of Interior, informed me that my name was in a report containing the names of threatened persons in Tunisia.  I was not informed by any official Ministry source but through informal channels.

Shams logo
Shams logo

I requested personal protection from the Interior Ministry, but this was rejected. They said they could not provide security protection to all persons at risk.

Before me, Bouhdid Belhadi, a spokesman for Shams, received threats. His death was called for during a Friday sermon at a mosque in Hammamet, his hometown, with full knowledge of police. We looked for him at his home and in the city. We were forced to hide him and he had to abandon his studies at college.  Faced with these threats, Gorjani police called him to tell him he should be discreet without taking any steps to protect him.

Ahmed Ben Amor, a founding member of the organization, receives daily threats. He has been beaten, manhandled harassed and assaulted by strangers in the street. Worst of all, when he went to complain, he was called names by police.

Have you filed an application for an asylum in France?

I am doing the necessary steps to obtain asylum. It will not necessarily be in France, but in any country where I feel safe and where I could complete my education.

You are no longer an activist within your association?

I will be an activist in other  ways

I was duped into believing that we were now free, that we lived in a democracy, there was no more room for fear.  Even the political parties and associations that call themselves progressive have failed us. Aggressive police practices continue against us with impunity. A free Tunisia is a fantasy.

To read the entire article in French, click here:  “Menacé de mort, Hedi Sahly, vice-président de l’association “Shams” a quitté la Tunisie

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 info@76crimes.com.

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