Last Saturday morning, Tunisian LGBT activist Ahmed Ben Amor survived an attempt to kill himself by swallowing 30 2.5 milligram pills and 30 one milligram pills of Ativan, a sedative used to treat seizure disorders. According to blogger Conor McCormick, he had also taken two other types of unspecified drugs. Amor’s friend found him unconscious at 10 AM local time, and rushed him to a hospital. “Upon arrival, Ahmed was diagnosed with a stage 9 coma on the Glasgow scale, which is considered moderate to severe.”
McCormick says that Amor’s mother and father threw him out of their house after finding out about his homosexuality. When they heard about Amor’s suicide attempt, however, they drove from their hometown of Mahdi to the hospital in Tunis where Amor was recovering. “According to one of Ahmed’s good friends, his parents have now ‘accepted the fact that their son is gay.’”
Amor is Vice President of Shams, Tunisia’s first LGBT organization to receive official authorization in the interior ministry. Front Line Defenders, a human rights organization, states that Shams members have been subject to “systematic smear campaigns by religious actors and conservative political groups,” including death threats. Homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia. According to FLD, “Article 230 of the penal code criminalizes ‘homosexual acts’ for both men and women in the Arabic text and ‘sodomy’ in the French version.” The punishment for homosexual acts is three years of imprisonment.
Daily death threats against Amor, which his friends say motivated his suicide attempt, may be part of a rising tide of homophobia in Tunisia.
On April 14 , Tunisian actor Ahmed Landolsi made homophobic comments on a talk show called El Hiwar Ettounsi. Landolsi was asked about his views on homosexuality. He replied saying that homosexuality is a “sickness.” According to McCormcik, Landolsi also said that homosexuality is against, Islam, and therefore against Tunisia’s constitution. Amor appeared on the show to condemn Landolsi’s comments and debate a singer and an Imam about homosexuality. He stated that Shams’s goal was to have Article 230 of Tunisia’s penal code repealed.
Shortly after the episode was aired, backlash erupted throughout Tunisia. On April 26, a Shams member under the pseudonym Mohammad Shams told France 24 about increasing levels of LGBT discrimination. Restaurants, cafes and grocery stores displayed signs declaring “No homosexuals allowed.” Photos surfaced with messages calling for homosexuals to be killed. Mohammad said, “They appear to have been taken by the police, the National Guard, and the army.” McCormick says that several violent attacks were carried out against LGBT community members and activists, including one against Shams member Bouhid Behadi. Another LGBT activist, Ramy Ayari, was beaten and kicked in the face by off-duty police officers outside of Wax nightclub in Gammarth, a suburb of Tunis, on April 29.
Mohammad asserts that some Tunisians voiced their support for LGBT people. “Some policemen and soldiers have reacted with positive messages, for example: ‘We’ll protect everybody. We have called on the authorities to intervine and put a stop to this hate speech, which is becoming really disturbing.’” While homosexuality is “still very frowned upon in Tunisia” and thought of as unnatural, Mohammad has hope that “mentalities are evolving.” He says that three years ago, 94 percent of Tunisians were against homosexuality. Today, 64 percent are against homosexuality.
Mohammad used his pseudonym due to “concern for his safety.”
Many Tunisians have expressed support for Amor via social media. Alternative rock singer Hamed Sinno started a twitter campaign with the hashtag #WeLoveYouAhmed.
According to McCormick, doctors do not believe that Amor will have permanent brain damage from his attempted overdose.
Update: Amor has, after recovery, made a second suicide attempt and is said to be in critical condition.