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  • Association Shams President Mounir Baatour holds a rainbow banner during a demonstration in Tunisia.

    Association Shams President Mounir Baatour holds a rainbow banner during a demonstration in Tunisia. | Photo: Facebook/Mounir Baatour

Published 4 July 2019

“After many years in the fight for minority rights, I have understood that no one can do the job better than me," announced candidate, Mounir Baatour.

Mounir Baatour, lawyer and LGBTIQ+ activist, has announced his candidacy for the next Tunisian presidential elections to be held in November. In doing so, Baatour becomes the first openly gay man to run for presidency in the Arab world.

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"Tunisia needs a democratic program that can include the different identities, cultures, beliefs and languages of this country. Our program aims to democratize power, strengthen the Parliament and give more weight to local institutions," stated the lawyer in June over Facebook.

“After many years in the fight for minority rights, I have understood that no one can do the job better than me," he added.

Baatour is the president of Association Shams, a Tunisian advocacy group for  LGBTIQ+ people, considered to be one of the most influential in the Arab world. Shams means 'sun' in Arabic.

Earlier this year, the government threatened to close down the association, however, the country's court of appeal issued a verdict in favor of the association saying the government had no legitimacy to bar it from carrying out its social and political activities.

Homosexuality is still considered a crime in Tunisia, according to its penal code. The situation has slowly changed over the past several years, particularly since the nation's 2011 political revolution, but a lot still has to be done to transform conservative social mentality and to raise political awareness concerning LGBTIQ+ rights.

"Homosexuals are citizens without rights in Tunisia," said the activist and candidate for head of state who was arrested in 2013 for alleged acts of sodomy. 

First (openly) gay man to run for the presidential elections in Tunisia (and in the Arab world).
Courage to this man. Pride. 

In September 2017, Tunisia's Human Rights Minister Mehdi Ben Gharbia said LGBTIQ+ people will no longer have to suffer torture practices, including forced anal examination. Despite the promise, several people have reported they continue to endure inhumane and discriminatory practices for being gay, lesbian, queer or transgender. 

This year, for instance, a young man was charged with same-sex relations and was subjected to a forced anal examination when he went to the police denouncing that he was gang-raped, according to media Al-Araby.

The number of arrests under the anti-sodomy law has increased, Association Shams told The Guardian. In 2019, at least 22 people were locked up under these charges.

More generally, in the Arab world, LGBTIQ+ people have always been subjected to discrimination and oppression. In many countries including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen among others, engaging in same-sex relations can lead to execution.

Despite coercion and repression, in Tunisia, the LGBTIQ+ community is paving the way for its social and political integration. 

In 2017 for instance, an LGBTIQ+ radio station "Radio Shams" was launched with the aim of providing a voice to people who have long been silenced. Along with this initiative, last year the first queer film festival "Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival," was launched.

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