Tunisian policewoman whose slap sparked massive revolts in Arab world to be tried

April 16, 2011

Fadia Hamdi

Fadia Hamdi, the Tunisian policewoman whose slap of Mohammad Bouazizi, a vegetable seller has changed geopolitics in the Arab world, is to be tried for physical aggression and verbal abuse, a public prosecutor said.

The 34-year-old woman has been in police custody since January and last week the prosecutor rejected a call by her lawyer to allow her to go home.

On Friday, he said that she would face trial in a court in Gafsa in the southwest of Tunisia, 110 kilometres to the west of Sidi Bouzid where the incident happened.

Her detention has divided the nation, with many claiming that she was a scapegoat and should be freed while others insisting that she abused her authority and caused a citizen to commit suicide.

According to witnesses, Fadia on December 17 humiliated Mohammad publicly after he refused to pay a fine for not having a permit to sell vegetables and fruits off a cart in Sidi Bouzid, a town in central Tunisia. The agent confiscated the weighing scales he used to sell fruits and vegetables and slapped him, a highly humiliating act in the Arab world.

According to Samia, Mohammad’s sister, her brother, 26, was the breadwinner of the family and sold fruits and vegetables on a cart that he moved around the largely rural landlocked town.

“My brother is 26 years old and did not succeed in getting a high school diploma, so he took up selling fruits and vegetables in order to make some money for himself and the family,” Samia said.

“On that fateful day, he left home and went about his small business, selling fruits and vegetables when a woman municipality agent put pressure on him on the grounds that he did not have a licence. Our uncle, who was at the scene, stepped in and calmed the situation. Unfortunately, the woman came back later and insisted on a TD 10 ($6.86) fine. The standoff degenerated and she confiscated the weighing scales, slapped him on the face and threw away the fruits and vegetables he was selling,” Samia said.

However, other witnesses have said that Fadia was only doing her work and that Mohammad, angered by her insistence on either showing a permit or paying a fine, abused her verbally, prompting her to react by slapping him.

Both versions, however, agree that Mohammad did not accept the public humiliation and went to the local governorate building to report the incident. However, he was barred from entering and nobody wanted to listen to his plight, the sister said.

“He became hysterical and in a highly deplorable act of hopelessness, went to the nearest petrol station, bought some gasoline, poured it on his body and set himself ablaze,” Samia said.

The sister said that people panicked when they saw the human torch and one bystander splashed water on her brother, an act that worsened his condition.

“There was no fire extinguisher around. People waited until the ambulance came to take him to hospital. It was horrible. His whole body, from head to toe, was burned by the fire.”

Mohammad, known locally as Basboosa, was transferred to a hospital in Sfax, Tunisia’s second largest city, 120 kilometres to the east, and afterwards to a specialised burns hospital in the capital, 270 kilometres to the north.

Mohammad died on January 4.




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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