Human rights advocates are sounding alarm after a prominent Tunisian LGBT+ activist was jailed for pursuing a harassment complaint against the police.
Rania Amdouni, 26, was arrested on 27 February and sentenced to six months in prison for shouting outside a police station after officers refused to register her harassment complaint, Human Rights Watch reported.
According to her lawyer the complaint related to the repeated harassment she said police officers subjected her to, both in public and online.
When she tried to confront police at the station, officers reportedly ridiculed her appearance and harassed her based on her presumed sexual orientation.
“Eight police officers surrounded her and repeatedly insulted her, and one told her, ‘You are a homosexual, you will not win against us, and we will not allow you to defame police officers,”’ said a lawyer who witnessed the situation.
She is now being held in a women’s prison in Manouba, west of Tunis, where her lawyer said guards repeatedly enter her cell at night to harass and threaten her due to her gender expression.
“Rania was sentenced six months for insulting police and abuse of morals,” said Saida Guarach, who is among the legal team representing Amdouni.
The charge of insulting a police officer is punishable by up to one year in prison under article 125 of the penal code.
Prosecutors also charged Amdouni with “causing embarrassment and disruption,” and “apparent drunkenness,” but her lawyers say her case file included no evidence of her targeting a police officer or any indication she had been drunk.
Amdouni is well known for her role in protests calling for democracy in Tunisia. Fellow activists told Reuters she’d been increasingly targeted by police since February, when she became a visible part of the daily demonstrations against police repression.
“Amdouni has been facing consistent harassment by police in the street and online for months, which caused her to suffer severe mental health consequences and break down,” her lawyer Hamadi Hanchiri confirmed.
Her treatment is just one of the many documented violations by Tunisian security forces against activists at protests, including targeting LGBT+ activists with arbitrary arrests, physical assault, threats to rape and kill them, and refusing them access to legal counsel.
“The police response to Amdouni’s complaint keeps her from getting protection and undermines public confidence in law enforcement and the Tunisian justice system,” said Rasha Younes, LGBT+ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“By arresting and sentencing Amdouni, Tunisian authorities are sending an appalling message to victims of discrimination that they have nowhere to turn and that any objection could land them in prison themselves.”