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Tunisian gay-rights leader flees to France for safety

Mounir Baatour, the leader of the Tunisian gay rights group Shams, has fled to France for safety. Before his decision to flee, Baatour had been a candidate in last year’s Tunisian presidential election.

From the African Human Rights Media Network

Mounir Baatour at a demonstration in Tunisia. (Photo courtesy of the International Policy Digest)

In Tunisia, his life was under threat from fatwas issued by anti-gay imams. He had also been charged with blasphemy for a post on Facebook.

He said he will remain active in LGBTQ rights advocacy as the president of Shams (“Sun” in Arabic). He will return to Tunisia if he is given police protection and a charge of blasphemy is dropped, he said.

In an interview with the Erasing 76 Crimes blog, Baatour stated:

I left Tunisia and I took refuge in France because of the threats to my life following the fatwas issued by Tunisian imams calling for my assassination.

I have not received any protection from the Tunisian state. On the contrary, I am being sued for blasphemy for a status that I shared on Facebook.

Shams logo

Logo of the Tunisian LGBT rights group Shams. (In Arabic, “Shams” means “sun.”)

Q. Are you going to remain involved in Tunisian human rights advocacy?
A. Yes. Of course.

Q. Will Shams continue?
A. Yes. Shams continues.

Q. Will you remain the leader of Shams?
A. I’m the president of Shams.

Q. What will be your next steps in seeking to return to Tunisia safely?
A. Let the lawsuits be dropped against me and give me police protection.

Q. How will you support yourself in France?
A. I am a lawyer. I can work in France.

Baatour and his style of gay-rights activism have been controversial within the LGBTQ community in Tunisia.

After he announced his candidacy for president, 11 Tunisian LGBT rights groups attacked him and Shams last summer, criticizing them for alleged sexual abuse, their tactic of “outing” closeted gay politicians, and for not joining in condemnation of Israel. They launched a Change.org petition denouncing him, which was signed by 432 people.