Court acquits woman whose slap changed the Arab world

April 20, 2011

A Tunisian court on Tuesday acquitted Fadia Hamdi — the policewoman whose confrontation with Mohammad Bouazizi, a vegetable seller, has changed geopolitics in the Arab world — of physical aggression and verbal abuse.

The charges were dropped and the case closed after the Bouazizi family dropped the lawsuit against the 35-year-old policewoman whose trial had waded into controversy.

The family says it acted in a gesture of tolerance and in an effort to heal wounds suffered in Tunisia’s upheaval of recent months.

Only family members and lawyers were allowed in for the verdict, but dozens of people gathered in front of the building to call for the release of Hamdi who had been under arrest since December 30.

Her lawyer, Besma Menasri, has repeatedly said that Hamdi was innocent and that she had been made into a scapegoat.

The Hamdi family accused political activists and trade unionists of using her case to receive support from the international community and boost their protest movement against former president Zain Al Abedine Bin Ali who was eventually evicted after 23 years in absolute power.

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

Samia, Bouazizi’s sister, said her brother, 26, was the breadwinner of the family and sold fruit and vegetables on a cart that he pushed around in 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 fruit 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 when a woman officer 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 TD10 (Dh25) fine. The standoff became worse and she confiscated the weighing scales, slapped him on the face and threw away all the produce he was selling,” Samia said.

However, other witnesses have said that Hamdi was only doing her work and that Bouazizi, 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 Bouazizi 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, his 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 burning man 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 burnt.”

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

He 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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