Landmark Sexual Harassment Case Begins in Tunisia

A landmark sexual harassment case involving a lawmaker that stirred Tunisia’s #MeToo movement began hearing on Thursday. 

Parliament member Zouhair Makhlouf was summoned to face charges of sexual harassment and public indecency for the first time after avoiding prosecution in 2019 when a schoolgirl posted photos of him on social media allegedly performing a sexual act in his car outside the girl’s high school.

Makhlouf did not appear at the hearing but, in an interview, denied all charges and maintained innocence.

“While the photo is real, it was a misunderstanding,” Makhlouf said.

Makhlouf’s case inspired the #MeToo movement (#EnaZeda in Tunisian dialect), where thousands of Tunisians shared their personal experiences of sexual assault and harassment online.

“All that is happening, is the worst accusation of my life. I was imprisoned under the (former President Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali dictatorship three times, but this is the worst injustice I’ve suffered, it’s stupid and absurd,” Makhlouf said.

The court could not prosecute Makhlouf in 2019 because of his parliamentary immunity, however, in July, President Kais Saied froze the Tunisian parliament and lifted political immunity for MPs. 

The hearing was set to resume on November 11.

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