After anti-gay trial, tortures in Tunisian prison

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Shams logo

One of the six Tunisian students who were convicted and sentenced to prison last month for homosexuality has revealed what he endured at the hands of police, doctors, prison guards and prisoners.

Shams, an LGBT rights group seeking the decriminalization of homosexuality in Tunisia, published the account today on its Facebook page.

The Court of Appeals in Sousse, Tunisia, on Jan. 7 released the six young men  pending action on the appeal of their three-year prison sentences for sodomy. A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for Feb. 25.

The men were not only given three-year prison sentences for sodomy, they were also banned from returning to Kairouan, where they attend Rakkada University, for three years after their release from prison.

The 19-year-old defendant provided this account to Shams:

On Dec. 1, the six young people were in student housing in Kairouan. Of the six, only four were residents. Of the other two, one had run away from home after an altercation with his family. His family had reported him missing, and police found him with the other five.

The police then raided the students’ home on Dec. 1 while the six young people were eating dinner. The six young people’s phones and laptops were confiscated. Three days later they were arrested after police found a pornographic gay video on one of the computers.

In Tunisia, Kairouan is located about 150 kilometers (100 miles) south of Tunis. (Map courtesy of brittanica.com)
In Tunisia, Kairouan is located about 150 kilometers (100 miles) south of Tunis. (Map courtesy of brittanica.com)

“I refused to be subjected to an anal test in the doctor’s office,” the 19-year-old said, “so I was badly beaten and was tortured physically and mentally. Finally I agreed [to having the anal test].”

He won’t forget the words the doctor used — “Get down as if you were going to do the prayer” — before introducing an instrument in his anus and conducting the rectal examination.

“The cell at the police station was like a tomb,” he said, but the prison was worse.

“We were locked in a room with 190 other prisoners, and the abuse by prison guards began immediately. They made us sleep on the floor without blankets or mattresses.”

That’s how the man, convicted of violating Tunisia’s Article 230 [against same-sex intercourse] described the inhumane circumstances of his first day in prison, a cold and wet December day.

The next day, the officers came to take them to the barber.

“They shaved our heads, while hitting us and insulting us,” he said.

But that was nothing compared to what was awaiting them on the following days.

“I’m sick, and I have medication that I need to take daily. Each day, the guard who took me to the clinic harassed me, fondled me and hit me on sensitive parts of my body.”  That made his psychological and medical condition worse.

The worst was when the guards were bored. It was a bloody scene.

“They would demand that we be brought to them for a little fun. For more than a fortnight, more than 15 of them would beat us with sticks. We were forced to kneel down so they could more easily kick us. They spat at us, subjected us to water torture, and were only released when we couldn’t take any more.”

The guards purposely spread the word to other prisoners about the crime that sent the six to prison — which transformed their nights in the cell into long nightmares.

“The other inmates beat us, hit us in our privates and tried to steal our clothes. Their leader put us in the middle of a circle of other prisoners who hit us with a stick so we would dance.

“They asked very intimate questions. If we didn’t answer, they hit us. If we did, they still hit us.”

Their detention turned into a battle against torturers and rapists. They were unable to sleep because of prisoners’ threats: “You’ll see what I’d do to you as soon as you close your eyes.”

The young prisoner said:

“After two weeks of horror and torture, I took drugs from another prisoner who had a problem of blood glucose levels, because I wanted to kill myself.

“I hated life. I had lost hope. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to live.

“Our loved ones brought us food and the clothes, and even that was confiscated.”

These Tunisian citizens underwent severe torture and conditions like at Guantanamo Bay. They were spat out by the judicial system into the sewers of humanity and the swamp of injustice.

“Even after my release from prison,” the youth said, “I can no longer live: life has gone dark. I can’t communicate with my family or leave my room. My studies are ruined, my life is ruined. I can’t face anyone. My country destroyed me. I am oppressed and broken.”

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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