Ex-Footballer’s livestream self-immolation following a ‘banana sale dispute’ wreaks havoc in Hafuz, Tunisia.
Ex-football player, Nizar Issaoui died on Thursday, April 13th, after he poured gasoline on his body and set himself on fire in a livestream video outside a police station earlier in the week over an alleged incident of police injustice, prompting angry protests from his community in the city of Hafuz, Kairouan province.
Nizar Issaoui was born on September 30, 1987, and was once pre-selected, but never actually played for Tunisia’s national team. Nevertheless, the father of four was a top-flight player for US Monastir and had played with several of Tunisia’s elite clubs, including Touzir Newspaper, EGS Gaff, Amal Hafuz, and most recently, Lajmi club, an amateur league side.
According to a live video on Facebook, that he recorded seconds before he set himself ablaze, the 35-year-old footballer claimed that he had been unfairly accused of terrorism by the police, following a fight with a fruit vendor for selling bananas at twice the fixed-price, a practice that has lately become pervasive throughout Tunisia. Citizens have been growing more enraged over market vendors camouflaging their violations by displaying different prices during official or police visits rather than the ones they normally charge. Only two weeks prior to the incident, footage of an undercover price control officer penalizing a fruit vendor for price gouging went viral on Facebook, encouraging Tunisians to start reporting and taking action against similar violations, an attempt that didn’t go as planned for Issaoui and ended up in his death.
“People, look at these ****, treating me unfairly,” Issaoui said as he pointed at a couple of nervous policemen trying to talk him out of enacting his plan “How has a dispute over bananas with a price gouger landed me a terrorism charge?!” he added talking to the camera, urging the crowds of people, who desperately begged him to stop, to stay away from him. “Terrorism over bananas. Here they are,” he shouted one last time before setting himself on fire. Issaoui was later transferred to a hospital in Kairouan, and, according to local health authorities, he died on Thursday night as a result of the serious burns he had sustained.
In a Facebook post of what seemed to be Issaoui’s last message, the footballer said: “It’s a great disappointment to see your rights being stolen in front of your eyes, once, twice, and thrice in the name of the rule of law. It’s a great pain to feel like a stranger in your own homeland. It’s such a great pain to have your kids in front of you but not be able to talk to them. Today is the last day I will speak in my life. I will be the judge and the defendant. I, Nizar Issaoui, sentence the defendant Nizar Issaoui to death by burning for being a real man… Case adjourned. I have no more energy, I will carry out the judgment today in this police state.”
Issaoui’s death prompted angry protests in his hometown, as dozens of his relatives took to the streets of Hafuz in fury. The local police reportedly used tear gas to disperse protesters who kept throwing stones at them. Tunisian authorities are yet to issue a statement about the incident.
The footballer’s death was a déjà vu for Tunisians. The incident was a re-enactment of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in December 2010, which ignited the Jasmine Revolution and sparked mass protests across the Arab world that became popularly known as the Arab Spring. Bouazizi was a 26-year-old street vendor from Sidi Bouzid, who set himself on fire in an act of dissent against the corruption of his local police force, which regularly humiliated him and confiscated his wares. A female officer slapping him across the face was the straw that eventually broke Bouazizi’s back.
Regardless of the actual truth behind Issaoui’s death, police corruption and brutality continue to be incontrovertible facts in Tunisia today, twelve years after the police state was supposedly defeated. Likewise, as the witch hunt against Tunisian politicians and assembly members over vague allegations of conspiracy, terrorism, and defamation persists, corrupt retailers, traffickers, and selfish opportunists remain loose, as “Tunisia experiences its worst crisis in a generation, with inflation hovering around 11 percent and food becoming increasingly scarce.”