A new radio station has launched in Tunisia with a focus on LGBT rights, a first in the Arab world. Broadcasting as of December 15, Radio Shams is the brainchild of the LGBT rights organization Shams, with support from the Dutch embassy.
"Our goal is to be audible everywhere, not only in Tunisia, which is feasible with this format," station director Bouhdid Belhadi told HuffPost Tunisia, and share the hope that LGBT people “can live in a tolerant society.”
While much of Radio Shams programming will be devoted to LGBT issues—from civil rights to sex life—it'll also cover political and economic news.
Article 230 of the Tunisian penal code criminalizes homosexuality, punishable by up to three years in prison. Last December, two gay men were arrested on suspicion of same-sex activity, forced to undergo anal examinations, and sentenced to eight months in prison. Others have been convicted simply for acting feminine under Article 226, which forbids “assaulting public decency with an obscene attitude.”
Samir Dilou, Tunisia's human rights minister, insists the concept of sexual orientation "is specific to the West" and that homosexuals need to be "treated medically." Dilou also attacked Gayday magazine, Tunisia's first (and only) gay outlet, claiming "freedom of speech has its limits."
Predictably, Radio Shams has not been universally embraced.
“There is a difference between freedoms, moral decay and chaotic values,” Tounsi Hor told Al Arabiya, adding that homosexuality is not compatible with Islam or Tunisian culture. He called on the government to suspend Radio Sham “to put an end to the messages which this minority, that doesn't respect [Islam] and that encourages vice, will promote.”
In November, the LGBT documentary Upon the Shadow was screened at a film festival in Carthage. While some audience members walked out, those who remained gave it a standing applause.