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An openly gay lawyer announced Thursday 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 program 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 a co-founder of the Shams association, through which he has for years campaigned against Tunisia’s criminalization of “sodomy” which carries a sentence of up to three years.

Last month’s petition against his potential candidacy was signed by numerous organizations 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.

Source: AFP