A 43-year-old Tunisian man identified as Imed Ghanmi died on Friday after he reportedly set himself on fire inside a police station in protest against police brutality.
The father of three and a cigarette peddler in the streets of El-Hancha is said to have burnt himself to death after his two packets of cigarettes and motorcycle were confiscated by police, who accused him of selling smuggled goods.
“What he told me is that they were abusive to him and demanded that he give them his scooter and the money he had on him,” his friend Jamak told the Observers. Jamak also claimed that his deceased friend was physically assaulted by the two police officers as he tried to stop them from seizing his scooter.
“I tried to negotiate to get his scooter back. I told them how precarious my friend’s finances were. They responded with contempt,” Jamak noted.
The victim tried to report the incident to a duty officer the following morning but was turned away. That’s when he lost his temper and decided to set himself on fire.
Before setting himself ablaze, Imed called his friend Jamak to inform him about his frustrations at the police station. He told Jamak that he was about to something stupid.
”It was the firemen who gave me the news of his self-immolation, by calling the last number he’d dialed.” Jamak added.
Self-Immolation as Protest
Imed’s death by self-immolation is not the first one to happen in Tunisia. In 2010, a Tunisian street vendor identified as Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after his merchandise was confiscated by municipal officers.
His death sparked nationwide protests that culminated in a full-blown Tunisian Revolution and the larger Arab Spring. The protests and street violence forced then-President of Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to resign in January 2011 after 23 years in power.
Apart from the 2015 terror attack that claimed 60 lives, most of them foreigners, Tunisia has been relatively peaceful since the ouster of President Ben Ali. The Tunisian media, which played a major role in the popular 2011 revolt, now enjoys a remarkable degree of freedom, which was quite absent in the previous regimes.
However, the secular population is concerned about the rising influence of ultra-conservative Islamic groups such as ISIL.
BY FREDRICK NGUGI