Tunisia MP jailed for sexual harassment in landmark case

Zouhair Makhlouf’s case marks first time a high-profile figure has faced prosecution for sexual wrongdoing in Tunisia.

'EnaZeda', 'me too' in the Tunisian dialect, is inspired by the #MeToo movement [File: Fethi Belaid/Getty Images]

A Tunisian member of parliament has been sentenced to a year in prison for sexually harassing a schoolgirl, in a case that sparked a nationwide #MeToo movement.

The victim’s lawyer, Naima Chabbouh, said Makhlouf had been found guilty of indecent assault after a court session that went late into Thursday evening.

Zouhair Makhlouf, of the Qalb Tounes party, was photographed in October 2019 allegedly performing a sexual act in his car in the coastal city of Nabeul.

The high school student who took the photos, who was a minor at the time, said he had followed her to school. She posted the pictures on social media and pressed charges of sexual harassment and indecent assault.

The images, which went viral, sparked an unprecedented outpouring of testimonies of sexual harassment. Many women used the hashtag #EnaZeda (Tunisian Arabic for “me too”), an echo of the #MeToo movement sparked by the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein affair in the United States in 2017.

The landmark sentence marks the first time a high-profile figure has faced prosecution for sexual wrongdoing.

 

Makhlouf at first avoided prosecution due to his parliamentary immunity.

In July, President Kais Saied froze the Tunisian parliament and lifted political immunity for MPs, as well as taking on sweeping executive and legislative powers.

Makhlouf argued throughout the trial that he is diabetic and had needed to urgently urinate in a bottle.

Ahead of the verdict, dozens of women demonstrated outside the court in Nabeul, south of Tunis, chanting “my body is not a public space!”

Makhlouf was originally charged with sexual harassment before the charge was reduced to indecent exposure.

The charges were then bumped up again under public pressure.

Tunisia is seen as a pioneer in the Arab world in terms of women’s rights, and in July 2017 made sexual harassment in a public space punishable by a jail sentence of up to a year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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