"Tunisia can take a real lead and join the mainstream."
SNP Member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee Alyn Smith and MEP colleagues German Green Barbara Lochbihler and Swedish Green Bodil Valero have, in Tunis, delivered a letter to the Tunisian Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Ben Aissa urging the immediate release of "Marwan" a 22 year old man sentenced to a year in jail after an anal exam which judges ruled "proved" his criminal sexuality, illegal under Tunisian law.
The trio also praised the Minister's comments this week to the effect that the North African fledgling democracy should also consign anti LGBT provisions in the Tunisian penal code article 230 to history. A lively debate is underway in Tunisia with a real chance that the offending Article 230 could be repealed if sufficient support can be found in Parliament after Mr Ben Aissa said:
"My problem is Article 230 … Nothing can justify infringement on private life"
The MEP Delegation is in Tunisia primarily to see first hand how the state is coping with the continuing refugee and migrant crisis, with a series of briefing meetings and visits to ports and beaches.
"Tunisia is, in many ways, a progressive, liberal but still fragile democracy, and we are here to support this still new democracy and see what the people of Tunisia need when too may EU and EU member state politicians are more interested in simply extending the EU's considerable border problems Southwards.
"We can do better than that. We must be more pragmatic, migration and refugees are a long-standing crisis and are not going to be solved unless we work with our partners in the region.
"But we can also be vocal on other issues, and on LGBT rights as a gay man myself I find the legal situation in Tunisia unacceptable, and out of keeping with the image and standards Tunisia seeks to be known for.
"I think with real leadership we could see the offending, offensive and outdated, given it comes from Colonial times, article of the Penal Code consigned to history. This would give Tunisia a much deserved position of leadership in the region. We have seen some movement with civil society putting in a lot of work, and it seems the Justice Minister is a man we can do business with.
"I hope he will, firstly, release Marwan immediately, secondly, end the practice of such degrading examinations and thirdly, set in train a process whereby Tunisia becomes the first Arab country to decriminalise LGBT life."