Tunisia frees imprisoned LGBT activist

Rania Amdouni

A Tunisian appeals court ordered the release¬†of jailed activist Rania Amdouni on March 17, following an outcry from civil society and human rights groups. Amdouni had been charged with “insulting police and abuse of morals,”¬†which sparked concerns from rights groups¬†over suppression of free speech. Amdouni is the president of Chouf Minorities and a member of¬†the Tunisian Association for Justice & Equality (DAMJ), both organizations concerned with rights for women and the¬†LGBT. She has faced abuse from law enforcement over of her involvement in recent protests against austerity policies and police brutality. Police and politicians have shared her photo on social media with¬†disparaging comments about her appearance and presumed sexual orientation and¬†gender identity.

In the incident that prompted her arrest, Amdouni went to the Septi√®me police station in downtown Tunis on Feb. 27 to file a complaint against officers for harassment. When police refused to take her complaint, she left and reportedly shouted an anti-police slogan on the street outside the station. She¬†was promptly arrested¬†for “insulting a public officer,”¬†and later sentenced to six months in prison.

Amdouni is one of many activists who have been threatened with legal consequences under¬†Article 125 of Tunisia‚Äôs penal code, which criminalizes a broad range of behavior that can be interpreted as “insulting a public officer during the performance of his duties.”¬†Three other social justice leaders have been arrested over accusations of throwing a plastic water bottle at a police officer and insulting the police union. Such prosecutions have been the subject of studies concerning aggressive prosecution limiting freedom of speech.

Amna Guellali, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa branch, said, “Tunisia’s authorities are using Article 125 as a catch-all charge to prosecute all those who dare to criticize the police or complain about their conduct. They must stop prosecuting activists and human rights defenders on vague charges and urgently protect the right to freedom of expression.”

From Jurist, March 20. Used with permission.

Note: Amdouni has also been involved in demands for justice in the case of Frifta, a transgender woman and member fellow DAMJ member who in January 2020 was attacked in the street with electric stun device, leaving her badly injured, aftr she submitted a complaint against a police officer at a local police station in Tunis, concerning harassment of sex workers. (Frontline Defenders)

Photo via Twitter