First openly gay candidate joins Tunisia's presidential race

Baatour arrives to submit his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia.
Baatour arrives to submit his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia.PHOTO: AP

TUNIS (AFP) - An openly gay lawyer announced on Thursday (Aug 8) he would stand in Tunisia's presidential elections, a first for the Arab world.

Mounir Baatour's candidacy marks "a first which will without doubt be a benchmark in history", his Liberal Party said.

Baatour, the party's chief and a lawyer at the Court of Cassation, presents himself as a defender of LGBTIQ rights.

But ahead of his announcement, a petition signed by 18 groups who campaign for those rights warned his candidacy would represent a "danger" for their communities.

Baatour was jailed for three months in 2013 for "sodomy" with a 17-year-old student, which he has always denied.

Having a criminal record does not automatically ban Tunisians from standing in elections.

"The fact that I'm gay doesn't change anything. It's a candidacy like all the others," Baatour told AFP.

"I have an economic, social, cultural and educational programme for everything that affects Tunisians in their daily lives," he added.

Presidential hopefuls have until Friday to submit their candidacy, ahead of September 15 polls.

Baatour is co-founder of the Shams association, through which he has for years campaigned against Tunisia's criminalisation of "sodomy" which carries a sentence of up to three years.

Last month's petition against his potential candidacy was signed by numerous organisations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer rights.

"We think that Mr Baatour represents not only a threat but also a huge danger for our community," the petition read.