Rights groups urge release of Tunisian activist

Human rights organisations in Tunisia and abroad called Tuesday for the release of a gay rights and democracy activist sentenced to jail for insulting police officers.

A file photo taken on January 23, 2021 shows Tunisian feminist activist Rania Amdouni, dressed as a clown, taking part in an anti-government demonstration in the capital Tunis. – Human rights organisations in Tunisia and abroad called on March 16, 2021, for the release of a gay rights and democracy activist sentenced to jail for insulting police officers. She was arrested on February 27 and sentenced days later to six months behind bars. Fethi Belaid / AFP

Rania Amdouni, a 26-year-old LGBTQI rights campaigner often seen at pro-democracy protests, has been the target of an alleged smear campaign by police unions after taking part in protests against police repression in January.

She was arrested on February 27 and sentenced days later to six months behind bars.

Her appeal is set for Wednesday.

Amdouni “was arrested when she complained of aggression on the street due to her physical appearance, considered ‘non-conforming’ to gender stereotypes,” dozens of Tunisian, Moroccan, Algerian and French associations and activists said in a joint statement.

Like many other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex activists, Amdouni “is threatened daily on the street and in public places by security forces as well as anonymous citizens,” they said.

Amdouni’s photo has been repeatedly posted on social media, particularly by police unions, accompanied by degrading comments, Amnesty International has cited her as saying.

“Today Rania is the target of a police and judicial downward slide that the Tunisian authorities have chosen to favour in response to the economic, social and political crisis suffocating the country,” said the statement’s signatories, which included France’s Human Rights League and the Tunisian Organisation Against Torture.

They also called for the release of young people incarcerated during social unrest in January, which they said numbered more than 2,000.

Tunisia’s 2011 revolution sparked major advances in terms of freedom of expression and political freedoms.

But the police and justice systems have seen few reforms.

Consensual same-sex conduct is punishable by imprisonment.

Amdouni’s arrest and prosecution “sends a chilling message to activists who face harassment that if they dare to come forward to report police abuse they risk being turned from victim to accused”, Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s regional deputy director, said in a separate statement.

Guellali called Amdouni’s sentencing “outrageous”.

“She must be immediately and unconditionally released and all the charges against her should be dropped”.

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