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Tunisia jails six men for homosexuality

Accused face three years in prison and banishment from city for five years in ruling condemned by human rights groups as 'mediaeval'
Human Rights Watch said the ruling was 'not consistent with Tunisia's evolution' (AFP)

Six Tunisian men "denounced" by their neighbours have been jailed for three years for homosexuality, in a judgment condemned by rights activists.

The court in Kairouan handed down the maximum term under Tunisian law, their lawyer Boutheina Karkni said.

The young men were arrested in November and December after "neighbours denounced them" and were made to undergo anal examinations, she said.

Karkni described the ruling as "extremely harsh" and said an appeal hearing should take place "in two to three weeks" in the nearby coastal city of Sousse.

The six were also banned from their city for five years after they complete their sentences, handed down last week, their lawyer said.

One defendant was jailed for a further six months for "offensive" videos found on his computer, it was reported.

The men were jailed under article 230 of the penal code, which criminalises sex between men.

Human Rights Watch's country director Amna Guellali denounced the ruling as "a grave case of infringement on people's private lives and physical integrity".

Guellali described the sentences, which included the "extremely rare" penalty of "banishment", as "mediaeval and not consistent with Tunisia's evolution".

Balkis Mechri of the local Human Rights League agreed.

"The banishment really is scandalous," she said, calling on civil society to "react strongly" in the case.

But interior ministry spokesman Walid Louguini defended the ruling. "Our job is to uphold the law," radio station Shems FM reported him as saying.

In September, a court sentenced a student to a year behind bars in Sousse on charges of homosexuality, also after he was examined anally.

He was released in November pending an appeal hearing expected on Thursday.

After the September judgment, then justice minister Salah Ben Aissa made a controversial call for article 230 to be scrapped and was sacked in October.

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