‘When I entered the examination room, the doctor asked me to go on the examination bed and take off my trousers … I said no, so the doctor went to talk to the policeman. The policeman came and took me by the neck and said: ‘Fucking go on the examination bed. Now are you trying to be a man?’
“The police took me by the neck and also slapped me on the face.
I then went on the examination bed and then the doctor came and told me: ‘Now you take that position as if you were praying.’
“The doctor pulled down my pants. First the doctor touched me with his fingers and then he inserted a tube. The doctor was touching me on the outside and then on the inside of the anus. He was feeling around. And then he put in a long, thin, transparent tube. I asked why he was doing that and he said, ‘I’m trying to see if you have sperm in your anus to find out whether you had sex yesterday.’
“I felt pain when the guy was doing things inside my anus. When the doctor finished the test, I was crying … The doctor was saying in Arabic a religious saying: ‘There is no higher power than God’, and laughing. I was crying. I couldn’t do anything. I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do to defend myself.”
This is the testimony that Wassim, a 19-year-old Tunisian student, gave to Human Rights Watch for a report on forced anal testing.
Titled Dignity Debased: Forced Anal Examinations in Homosexuality Prosecutions, the report, compiled by the organisation’s Neela Ghoshal, looks into how men and transgender women, arrested on homosexuality-related charges, are forced into anal examinations by police working with medical personnel. The report says this is happening in at least eight countries, with the “purported objective of finding ‘proof’ of homosexual conduct”.
Six of the eight countries listed in the report are African: Tunisia, Egypt, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Cameroon. Lebanon and Turkmenistan complete the list.
The report found: “These examinations often involve doctors or other medical personnel forcibly inserting their fingers, and sometimes other objects, into the anus of the accused. Law enforcement officials and some medical personnel claim that by doing so they can determine the tone of the anal sphincter or the shape of the anus and draw conclusions as to whether or not the accused person has engaged in homosexual conduct.
“This argument is based on long-discredited 19th-century science: the overwhelming weight of medical and scientific opinion holds that it is impossible to use these exams to determine whether a person has regularly engaged in same-sex conduct.”
These examinations, the report added, “violate the United Nations Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”.
Forced anal exams are invasive, intrusive and profoundly humiliating. As the UN Convention against Torture has emphasised, they ‘‘have no medical justification and cannot be consented to fully”. Forced anal examinations are “a form of cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment that can rise to the level of torture.”
Mehdi Fourti, who chose not to use his real name, is a young gay Tunisian. Hoping to escape this trauma, Fourti is saving up to leave his country of birth. “I’m leaving Tunisia because I don’t feel safe. I want to feel safe,” he says.
The victim of a gang rape, Fourti knows all too well the need to feel safe. “It happened two years ago. There were four guys. I was bleeding and had to go to the doctor, but didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go to the police, either. But after a week, I had to go to the doctor. I’m better now, but it took me a month to recover.”
Mounir Baatour is the honorary president of the Liberal Party, the only political party in Tunisia actively lobbying for a repeal of Article 230 of the country’s Penal Code of 1913, which sees sentences of up to three years’ imprisonment for men found guilty of same-sex relations.
Baatour was arrested on suspicion of engaging in same-sex relations.
“The investigating judge issued an order that I have an anal test done. The police led me to the legal doctor. But the moment they left me alone with the doctor, I informed him that I refused to undergo an anal test because I consider it an inhuman act and that it is torture,” says Baatour.
Distrust and fear of the country’s police and medical practitioners is something the country’s queer community has become accustomed to.
“You know how, every morning, most people wake up, brush their teeth and know they’re going to school or work. In Tunisia, queer people know that they will one day end up being arrested and end up in jail,” says author, feminist and LGBTI activist Amina Sboui.
Although Sboui says “forced anal testing is still happening”, she adds: “It is not happening as often as it did before. I think the government is considering the work done by organisations and activists as well as the media coverage.”
Tunisian-born, France-based Yadh Krendel is the president of LGBTQ organisation Shams France.
Concurring with Sboui, Krendel says: “The Tunisian government is very concerned about its image, especially after the revolution. They are trying to clean up their image in the international community. So, when they can, they try to avoid cases that negatively affect this new image.”
Tanzania and Zanzibar
“Have you ever come across a gay goat or bird? Homosexuality is not biological, it is unnatural.” So reads a tweet by Tanzanian deputy health minister Hamisi Kigwangalla that was subsequently deleted.
Unlike Tunisia, the government of Tanzania, despite cancelling a press conference earlier this week at which it planned to announce its list of the country’s gay men, is much less concerned with its international image with regard to the rights of LGBTQ people.
The government has recently announced the closure of 40 HIV and Aids facilities that provided services to men who have sex with men and transgender people. This follows a ban on the provision of lubricants and condoms to public health facilities providing services to these groups.
Neighbouring island Zanzibar is taking this move one step further with the introduction of forced anal testing. James Wandera Ouma, the founder and executive director of LGBT Voice in Tanzania, has said this is “like killing the LGBT community”.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, a human rights defender based in Zanzibar said: “We never had any incidents of forced anal testing here in Zanzibar until last year when, after an openly gay man was interviewed on TV, the government issued a statement condemning homosexuality.”
On December 16, nine men suspected of being gay were arrested and subjected to forced anal testing.
“Some just walking the street, some having drinks in a bar or whatever. They were not together at all, but they were all forced into having these examinations done. For us, this is very, very worrying. People are scared,” he said.
According to Graeme Reid, the director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, Tanzania was not included in the report because LGBT organisations and activists did not wish to draw attention to the situation there, for fear of increased government clampdowns.
“In my job monitoring human rights abuses against LGBT people around the world, I come across horrific stories,” says Reid. “The testimony of individuals subjected to forced anal testing is some of the most haunting testimony that I have come across; the deliberate humiliation of individuals, under the false pretense of medical practice and forensic research, is truly shocking.”
When approached by the M&G, most activists and LGBTQ people in the African countries listed in the Human Rights Watch report declined to comment out of fear of further recriminations.
Some of the first-person accounts listed in the report, however, offer an insight into the “haunting” nature of these testimonies.
“I still have nightmares about that examination. Sometimes it keeps me up at night when I think about it. I never thought a doctor could do something like that to me,” Louis, a Cameroonian who was 18 years old at the time, said nine years after being examined.
“I had gone before to that hospital for illnesses but now I wouldn’t go because of that bad doctor. He would be pointing at me, saying, ‘This is the person’,” said Felisha, a transgender woman in Zambia. She added that the traumatising experience might influence her health-seeking behaviour in the future.
Mohamed, who was arrested in Cairo in 2002 at the age of 17, said: “I started crying hysterically. [The doctor] said, ‘Shut up, everything is clear and we can see it in front of us.’ First he looked and he felt me up. Suddenly six doctors came in. What is there about my anus? They all felt me up, each in turn, pulling my buttocks apart. I hoped they’d feel sorry from all that crying, but they didn’t, they didn’t seem to feel anything. [One of them] said after, ‘Why didn’t you cry when men put their things in you?’ I wanted to spit on him. But I was still crying.”
“I was too embarrassed, I felt too bad. I was standing up and [the doctor] told me to take off my clothes and to bend over. It was very painful when he put that thing inside me but I had no choice … I was crying, I was deep in tears, but I had no choice. The police were saying, ‘Why are you crying, you have no choice! You deserve death!’ [He] didn’t tell me the results when he finished. I found out later my results said ‘negative’,” says Chloe, a transgender Ugandan woman, on being examined by a male doctor, who used an object “which appeared to be made of glass”.
A medical report filled out by a doctor in Kampala, Uganda, after conducting a forced anal examination on a man suspected of consensual same-sex conduct. (Neela Ghoshal, Human Rights Watch)
“This continues to be one of the biggest issues faced by trans persons as well as men who have sex with men in Uganda,” says Almeidah Karemani, editor of the LGBTQ-focused online media platform Kuchu Times.
“It is a really dehumanising thing for anybody to have to go through. People are really scared.”
As to whether she sees the practice coming to an end in the near future, Karemani says: “This is painful to say, but no, I don’t.”
For her part, Sboui appears optimistic that Tunisia will soon turn the tide in its repression of homosexual men and transgender women and stop the practice of forced anal testing.
“It’s not a hope; it’s a fact,” she says. “I believe that in five years’ time, we will stop hearing about this, the random arrests, the penal code and forced anal testing. But with society, getting them to change, that will take time … I don’t know how long.”
Unprepared to wait for this change, Fourti sticks doggedly to his decision to leave the country.
“Tunisia is over for me. Once I am gone, I will never come back. I don’t even want to be buried here. I feel nothing for this country; this country that attacks us for no reason, that does all these things to us. If this was you, would you call this your country?”
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian.