Two police officers brutally beat one of Tunisia’s top LGBT+ rights activists in an attack campaigners warn captures the country’s descent into “repression”.
Badr Baabou, a human rights defender and head of the Damj Association for Justice and Equality, told Human Rights Watch how he was ambushed in Tunis, the nation’s capital, last week.
He was taunted, robbed and senselessly beaten by the officers, he claimed.
The thrashing left the activist concussed and suffering severe injuries to his neck, rib cage, eye and face, his medical report seen by Human Rights Watch stated.
Baabou suffered from blood clots, blunt force trauma to the head and forehead as well as trauma to his rib cage.
‘Heinous’ assault of Tunisia activist fuels fear LGBT+ people are being ‘silenced’
On 21 October at around 9pm, Baabou said he was walking home when two police officers used their official credentials to force him to give up his identification documents, wallet, mobile phone and work laptop.
The cops, one of whom was reportedly wearing an Internal Security Forces vest, then dealt “several severe blows to his head and face”, 35 human rights groups wrote in a letter condemning the attack.
“These heinous acts of cruelty and brutality were accompanied by statements of hatred, vindictiveness and discrimination,” the letter, shared to PinkNews, says.
The officers, the letter states, then barked at Baabou: “This is what happens to those who insult the police! This is what happens when you file a police complaint!”
All the while, Baabou lay on the ground struggling to breathe. “One [officer] placed his boot on my neck so I would stop screaming,” he told Human Rights Watch.
Baabou said that he and other members of Damj have filed a slew of complaints against the police on behalf of LGBT+ Tunisians who have been assaulted by law enforcement since 2005.
As Baabou writhed in pain on the ground, passersby did attempt to help him, only for the police to stop them.
It’s an attack that, to many of Tunisia’s LGBT+ rights groups, captures the perils the queer community face in a country that considers their existence a crime under Sharia law.
Tunisia‘s law enforcement has a horrific history of “anally probing” those “accused” of homosexuality. Even after ministers vowed to stop the practice in 2017, courts continue to order anal tests to determine whether suspects are gay, campaigners say.
Around six in 10 Tunisians believe that “homosexuals should be punished”, pollsters found in 2016.
All the while, Mawjoudin, a queer support group, reported a spike in calls to its counselling hotline last year as the violence continues to surge.
“The assault on Badr Baabou was a dangerous attempt to silence him and other LGBT rights activists,” Rasha Younes, LGBT+ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement
“Tunisian authorities should urgently respond to Baabou’s complaint, investigate the incident, and hold the attackers accountable.”
“These are not the first instances of this nature,” the letter adds, “nor are they an isolated incident or a simple blunder by an overzealous police personnel.
“Human rights and individual liberties defenders are being systematically and deliberately repressed.
“Journalists, feminists and activists for gender and sexual equality are paying the high price.”