Feminist activist Amini Sboui is one of Shams Rad’s
presenters. Credit: Shams Rad
TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia’s LGBT internet radio station Shams
Rad has only been online since December 19.
But in that short time, this North
African station has “received more than five thousand death threats, plus
threats to burn our radio headquarters,” said Mounir Baatour. He is President
of Association Shams (“Sun”), the Tunisian LGBT human rights group.
Shams Rad’s studio location is “kept secret for fear of terrorist and
homophobic attacks,” Baatour said. For the same reason, many of the station’s
volunteer presenters are keeping their identities secret; including having
their faces blurred in staff photographs.
One exception is Shams Rad presenter/feminist
activist Amina Sboui. In 2013 she posted topless on Facebook with the Arabic
words “My body is mine and not the source of anyone’s honor,” written across
The reason Shams Rad
is facing such pressure has to do with Tunisian culture. Despite the 2011
popular revolution that overthrew authoritarian president Zine El Abidine Ben
Ali and introduced democracy, the country remains a conservative Sunni Muslim
society where being homosexual is “actually punishable by Tunisian law (Article
230) with up to three years in prison,” said Baatour. Tunisia only recently
ceased forced anal examinations of men believed to be gay or bisexual.
Association Shams was
launched in 2015 in a bid to overturn Article 230, and end the mistreatment of
Tunisian LGBTs in general. Shams Rad was created to promote the rights of “sexual
minorities,” offer health advice, and counter the Tunisian media’s negative
portrayal of homosexuals “where they are judged and treated as perverts,” said
Baatour. “There are even some media outlets that invite imams to explain that
homosexuality is a sin and that homosexuals have to be thrown from high
buildings or burned alive.”
To fight back against
this hateful media coverage, Shams Rad is offering a range of live streaming
content that covers LGBT-related issues such as politics, culture, sex and
sexual health, and the arts. Funding for the online station is being provided
by the Dutch embassy in Tunisia.
Changing minds is no
easy task. “We have found that homophobia is widespread in the Middle East and
that all the countries of the region persecute homosexuals and condemn them to
prison,” Baatour said. “Homosexuals are also often rejected from their families
and find themselves without any material support; especially those who are too
young to take care of themselves.” Add the risk of LGBT people being
“persecuted in the street, and homophobic murders,” and the risks of being openly
gay in Tunisia are very, very real.
Despite the dangers,
Sham Rad’s LGBT volunteers refused to be intimated into silence. “We take these
risks because we think that homosexuals are citizens like everyone else and
have to be equal in rights; and we have to explain to the population that
homosexuality is neither an illness nor a choice,” said Mounir Baatour.
“We want to reach a
better comprehension of homosexuality in the region, a better acceptance of
homosexuals in society and by the family; and put pressure on Tunisian
authorities to decriminalize homosexuality.”