A 43-year-old Tunisian man identified as Imed Ghanmi passed away on Friday after he allegedly set himself ablaze at a police station in protest against police brutality.
The doctoral student and a street peddler who sells cigrates, had his wares (two packs of Cigarettes) and motor scooter seized by the police on July 5 in El-Hancha, a village in the eastern region of Sfax.
The police claimed Imed Ghanmi was selling smuggled goods.
In disapproval, for lack of any other income and police brutality, the father of three set himself on fire
Jamak who said Imed Ghanmi was his closest friend told observers that:
“Ghanmi was on his motor scooter when he was stopped by police officers, outside the post office in El-Hancha, at 2 a.m. on the morning of July 5.
He was carrying money and two cartons of cigarettes, purchased in Sfax, where his supplier was. The officers confiscated his merchandise and told him to get out of there. Imed moved away, but then two police officers followed him and stopped him again.
This time, there was no one around to watch what happened. What he told me is that they were verbally abusive to him, and demanded that he give them his scooter and the money he had on him. Imed tried to refuse. The money was to buy presents for his children for Eid al-Fitr, and his wife had just bought the scooter on credit.
When he protested, one of the officers hit him in the face. He was crying when he told me the story on the phone. I came and got him immediately in my car. He felt devastated, humiliated. I tried to calm him down. After picking him up, I went to the police station. I tried to negotiate to get his scooter back. I told them how precarious my friend’s finances were”.
The victim did all he could to report the incident to a duty officer the next morning but was not allowed to. That’s when he lost his temper and opted 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 do 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
Married with three children, those close to Ghamni said he had a brilliant mind. They said he was almost finishing a thesis in mathematics and was to defend his thesis in September of this year.
Until August 2015, he was an instructor at the National Institute of Applied Science and Technology (INSAT) in Tunis.
However, his contract was not renewed. He was forced to sell black market goods, among them cigarettes to cover his family’s needs. When his merchandise and scooter were seized, Ghanmi became frustrated.
Self-Sacrifice as Protest
the death of Imed Ghanmi is not the first time a Tunisian has killed himself in protest in the country. In 2010, a Tunisian street vendor identified as Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after his merchandise was confiscated by municipal officers.
His death caused protests nationwide that resulted in a full-blown Tunisian Revolution and the larger Arab Spring. The protests and street violence pushed the then President of Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to resign in January 2011 after 23 years in power.
Since then, Tunisia has been enjoying a relatively peaceful state. 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.