Mosaique, a Tunisian radio station, reported the court in the city of Sousse released the students after they paid roughly $245 in bail.
A court in the city of Kairouan on Dec. 10 sentenced the students — who reportedly underwent so-called anal tests to determine whether they were gay — to three years in prison under Article 230 of the Tunisian penal code. One of the students received an additional sentence of six months because authorities found pornographic videos on his computer when they arrested him and his classmates.The court also banned the students from Kairouan for three years.
Advocates noted the students were sentenced on the same day that representatives of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group of four organizations that helped implement the country’s democratic transition in the wake of then-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster from power in 2011, collected the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. Dec. 10 is also International Human Rights Day, which marks the anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
The appeals court in Sousse is scheduled to once again hear the students’ case on Feb. 25.
Advocacy group appeals 30-day suspension by government
Tunisia is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual activity remains criminalized.
The students’ release comes three days after the government suspended Shams, an organization that seeks to repeal Tunisia’s anti-sodomy law, for 30 days.
Hedi Sahli, vice president of Shams, told Business News, a Tunisian magazine, that the country’s government suspended the organization because of “non-compliance with the rule of law.”
Article 45 of the Tunisian code allows officials to suspend a non-governmental organization, such as Shams, for 30 days if they determine it has violated the law.
“The court’s decision is very scary and shocking,” Badr Baabou, president of the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality, an advocacy group known as Damj, which means “inclusion” in Arabic, told the Blade. “This (significantly) threatens the basic foundations of human rights, which are the right to gather and more importantly the freedom of expression.”
A spokesperson for the State Department on Wednesday told the Blade that it is “concerned by reports” the Tunisian government has suspended Shams.
“We continue to emphasize with Tunisian officials, as we do with all governments, the importance of protecting the rights of all citizens, including those of LGBTI individuals,” said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson added the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia “periodically reaches out to contacts” in Shams “for information on LGBTI issues.”
Shams has appealed the government’s decision to suspend it.
A court in the Tunisian capital of Tunis on Jan. 18 is scheduled to hear the organization’s case.
– See more at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2016/01/08/tunisian-students-sentenced-sodomy-law-released/#sthash.ZccaCbYO.dpuf