Imagine seeking police assistance after being gang raped – and finding yourself behind bars. This is what happened to 22-year-old A.F., who was arrested on charges of homosexual conduct after he went to a police station in the southern Tunisian town of Sfax in January to report the assault.
Instead of treating A.F. as a victim in need of support, police detained him and subjected him to a forced anal examinationat a local hospital. These unscientific and invasive “exams,” in which doctors penetrate a victim with a finger or an object to assess whether they “habitually” engage in anal sex, violate international law and can be traumatic for anyone who undergoes them – let alone a rape victim. Badr Baabou, the president of Damj, a Tunisian rights organization providing A.F. with legal support, said the exam results were “negative”and that despite searching through his phone and social media accounts, prosecutors presented no evidence against A.F. at all.
But they have pursued charges nonetheless.
On February 11, the first instance court in Sfax will hand down its verdict on whether A.F. is guilty of same-sex sexual relations under article 230 of the penal code, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison. Meanwhile, Baabou said, A.F.’s rapists walk free.
Article 230, whose terms violate privacy and non-discrimination rights, is also wellspring of other abuses. Human Rights Watch research on arrests for alleged same-sex conductin Tunisia has found that police enter homes without warrants, search through phones, and elicit forced confessions.
They also order forced anal examinations, despite Tunisia’s pledge to the United Nations Human Rights Councilto stop using them. Authorities sometimes claim victims “consent” to such exams. But consent to such an abusive exam from a detained person, when refusal might be taken as an indication of guilt, has little meaning.
Tunisia should uphold its commitment to human rights and stop subjecting its citizens to such brutal indignities. Tunisia’s presidential commission on individual freedomshas called for the repeal of article 230 and a prohibition on forced anal exams. President Beji Caid Essebsi has maintained silence on the matter. He should stand up for sexual assault victims like A.F. and for the privacy rights of all Tunisians.