Tunisian MP accused of indecency sworn in despite protests

“Stalkers shouldn’t make laws,” they chanted outside the inaugural session of the new parliament
Tunisian MP accused of indecency sworn in despite protests
Tunisian Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party leader Rached Ghannouchi (R) chairs the first session of the new parliament following the October elections in the capital Tunis, on November 13, 2019. – A collective oath by newly elected members of parliament was challenged by the leader of the Free Destourian Party (PDL), anti-Islamist lawyer Abir Moussi who wanted MPs to swear one by one, claiming some of them were not in the room at the time of the oath. It is the first clash on the floor of the Assembly between Moussi and Ghannouchi, who hopes to be the new president of the Assembly. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Tunisian women protested outside parliament Wednesday against the swearing-in of a newly elected lawmaker who was caught in a video that purported to show him masturbating outside a school.

The protesters fear that Zouheir Makhlouf, who walked free after being investigated for alleged sexual harassment and public indecency, will enjoy immunity from prosecution over any future allegations levelled against him by women.

“Stalkers shouldn’t make laws,” they chanted outside the inaugural session of the new parliament.

A video showing the moustachioed politician sitting in a car with his trousers dropped to his knees was shot last month by a pupil who shared it online alongside accusations of harassment.\

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Read also: Triggered by MP’s disgrace, Tunisia’s #MeToo breaks taboos

Makhlouf, who was elected for the Qalb Tounes party of controversial media magnate Nabil Karoui, denies inappropriate conduct and has said he was urinating due to a medical condition.

But the video went viral sparking Tunisia’s own #MeToo movement, with sex abuse victims breaking taboos under the hashtag #EnaZeda.

It was inspired by the huge global movement that bloomed in 2017 in the wake of sexual assault allegations by multiple women against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“Immunity is for your parliamentary duties, not your sexual desires,” read one placard waved by the demonstrators.

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Article 68 of the Tunisian constitution provides that no sitting MP can be “arrested or tried for their opinions… or for actions taken in connection with their parliamentary duties,” a formulation that in theory excludes allegations of sexual impropriety.

But “the interpretation of the law in Tunisia means that a lawmaker acquires an immunity that covers all of his or her actions, including those committed before they took office,” said jurist Nour Jihene, who joined the protest outside parliament.

The protesters called for stricter implementation of a July 2017 law that outlaws sexual harassment in public places with a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a 3,000 dinar fine.

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