Six male students charged with violating Tunisia’s anti-sodomy law, Article 230 of the Penal Code, have had their convictions upheld but their sentences reduced to time served and a 400 TND fine by an appeals court in Sousse earlier this week.
The men had already been freed on bail pending the appeal in January.
In addition to the three year prison sentence, one of the men had originally been sentenced to an additional year for public indecency when pornography was found by investigators on his laptop and all six had been given an additional five year banishment (interdiction de séjour) from the city of Kairouan, both of the latter convictions have been thrown out.
Even Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi who has repeatedly stated he would refuse to repeal Article 230, had condemned the banishment as “excessive”
That the conviction was upheld has disappointed human rights groups including Shams, Tunisia’s first LGBT advocacy group, which criticized the “Lack of courage in the court judgment and considers this judgement as a violation of human rights and human dignity.”
Shams, itself obtained a legal victory on February 23, 2016 when the first instance tribunal in Tunis ruled in favor of Shams appeal of an order in January that the group suspend its activities for thirty days. After the 30 days, the judiciary could have ordered the association’s dissolution.
“Shams can resume normal activities, thanks to the decision of the court,” the association announced on its Facebook page after the suspension, which could ultimately have resulted in the group’s mandatory dissolution, was overturned.
Shams has condemned the arrests and prosecutions of homosexuals in Tunisia, forced anal examinations used by investigators for “evidence” and called for repealing article 230 of the penal code, which criminalizes sodomy and punishes it with three years in prison.
When the suspension was imposed in January, Human Rights Watch condemned the move stating “The Tunisian authorities’ decision to suspend the activities of the LGBT rights group Shams is a setback for individual freedoms and equal rights in Tunisia.”
Shams has condemned the arrests and prosecutions of homosexuals in Tunisia, including the internationally publicized cases in 2015 of “Marwen” (a pseudonym given to a 22 year old male convicted to one year in prison) and six students who were convicted to the maximum three year sentence in December, both cases were tried under article 230 of the penal code.