In Tunisia, homosexuality is still punishable by up to three years in prison as depicted by Article 230 of the penal code. Over the years, change has paved the way for progress on several occasions. However, it hasn't all been smooth sailing.
In April, Association Shams - which has been described as the Arab world's most visible advocacy group for LGBTIQ+ people - was faced with legal threats by the government. However, the Court of Appeal in Tunis eventually ruled in favor of the group, claiming the government did not have "grounds to shut the organization down," as reported by Human Rights Watch.
Now, the president of that group - Mounir Baatour - is seeking to run for the country's presidential elections this November. In doing so, Baatour will be the first time an openly gay man enters the race for president in the Arab world.
Baatour, a lawyer by profession and head of opposition Liberal party, said that "after long years in the fight for minority right, I have understood that no one can do the job better than me."
"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," he wrote in a Facebook post back in June.
Baatour recently said he had obtained the necessary approvals to run for the upcoming presidential elections.
In 2013, Baatour was arrested for alleged sodomy, under the country's anti-sodomy laws. In an interview with French Le Point, Baatour said "homosexuals are citizens without rights in Tunisia." And it looks like he wants to pave the road to equality.
In September 2017, Tunisia's Human Rights Minister, Mehdi Ben Gharbia, announced that members of the country's LGBTIQ+ community will no longer be subjected to forced anal examinations. However, despite the promise, many individuals in the country are still victims of inhumane and discriminatory practices.
Earlier this year, a 22-year-old man was arrested on charges of homosexuality in a southern Tunisian city after reporting to the police that he had been gang-raped, Al Araby reported. At the time, police detained him on charges of same-sex relations and subjected him to a forced anal examination.
The number of arrests made under the country's anti-sodomy law increased significantly last year, Shams told The Guardian. In 2018, 127 such arrests were made compared with 79 in 2017. At least 22 individuals have been detained in 2019 under similar charges.
Despite pressures, Tunisians have made it a point to ensure fair laws, safety, and, most importantly, inclusion for the LGBTIQ+ community in the country.
In 2017, an LGBTIQ+ radio station titled "Radio Shams" stole international headlines after debuting in the country. The network launched with an aim to combat opposition to LGBTIQ+ rights in the country by creating a platform for the community's stories to be told.
Last year, Tunisia launched its first-ever queer film festival titled "Mawjoudin Queen Film Festival," spanning four days, despite homosexuality still being a crime in the country.
LGBTIQ+ individuals in the Arab world have long been subjected to oppression, harassment, societal judgment, and a wide array of discriminatory laws.
In many Arab countries, engaging in same-sex relationships can lead to imprisonment. In more severe cases, they are faced with the death penalty.
Currently, there are six countries in the world where the death penalty is implemented for engaging in same-sex relationships including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and in certain provinces in Nigeria and Somalia. In five other countries, the implementation of the death penalty is not very common. These countries include Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and the UAE.