In a case that sparked a national #MeToo movement, a Tunisian member of parliament was sentenced to a year in prison for sexually harassing a schoolgirl.
Makhlouf was found guilty of indecent assault, according to the victim’s lawyer, Naima Chabbouh, following a late-night court session on Thursday.
In October 2019, Zouhair Makhlouf of the Qalb Tounes party was photographed allegedly performing a sexual act in his car in the coastal city of Nabeul.
The high school student who took the photos, who was still a minor at the time, stated that he had followed her to school. She shared the photos on social media and filed sexual harassment and indecent assault charges.
The viral images sparked an unprecedented outpouring of sexual harassment testimonies. Many women used the hashtag #EnaZeda (Tunisian Arabic for “me too”), a nod to the #MeToo movement sparked in the United States in 2017 by the Harvey Weinstein affair.
This is the first time a high-profile figure has been charged with sexual misconduct.
Makhlouf initially avoided prosecution due to his parliamentary immunity.
President Kais Saied froze the Tunisian parliament in July, lifted political immunity for MPs, and assumed broad executive and legislative powers.
Throughout the trial, Makhlouf claimed that he is diabetic and needed to urinate urgently in a bottle.
Manifestation de soutien à la victime de Zouheir Makhlouf hier devant le tribunal de première instance de Nabeul.Quelques heures après,le verdict tant attendu est tombé,l’accusé est reconnu coupable et a été condamné à un an de prison ferme deux ans.Moment historique! #EnaZeda pic.twitter.com/wKFoyQ611Z— Aswat Nissa (@AswatNissa) November 12, 2021
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 initially charged with sexual harassment before the charge was reduced to indecent exposure.
The charges were then increased again due to public pressure.
Tunisia is regarded as a pioneer in the Arab world in terms of women’s rights, and in July 2017 made sexual harassment in public places a punishable offense punishable by up to a year in prison.