Amor Laabidi, the most recent among countless victims of Police repression, perduring even after the revolution.
Last couple of weeks, a hashtag (#تعلم_عوم : meaning “learn to swim”) trended through social networks in Tunisia. It gradually gained momentum to manifest in a popular unrest.
What was outwardly the public outcry over the murder of the Tunisian young man “Amor Laabidi” (following a Police foot pursuit) was inwardly a profound set of messages to the Authority. “No impunity” in particular.
On the 1st of April, 2018, national public opinion has been shocked by the news of death of the Young Amor Laabidi, left to drown by Police officers, following a National League Football game between Club Africain and Olympic Medenin which took place a day before, March 30th.
Amor Laabidi, 19 years old, died after being shoved by a police officer to river “Oued Miliane”, according to eyewitnesses .This was the outcome of a relentless foot pursuit engaged initially by Police officers to break scuffles among groups of football supporters in the northern stands of “Rades Olympic Stadium” in Rades (9km away from Tunis, Tunisia’s Capital).
Police Officers on-duty in the stadium attacked supporters after clashes between different groups in the Northern Curva (the northern stands of the stadium, reserved traditionally to the supporters of Club Africain). After dislodging all of the supporters from the stands, police officers relentlessly chased a group of supporters who flew in the direction of river “Oued Miliane”, situated at nearly 2 kilometers away from the Stadium.
According to some eyewitnesses, Police officers had used tear gas when the mentioned group approached the river. Some of them hided, others jumped in the river to swim away. Amor Laabidi, unable to swim, had asked the police officers to either arrest or let him go.
The similar witness accounts confirm that a certain policeman ordered Omar to dive in the river and “learn to swim”, neglecting the young man’s appeal for help, who soon got stuck in the muddy waters of the river and got carried away before the very eyes of his friends and the mentioned policeman.
Civil defense had found the corpse of Amor Laabidi, after a full night of searching. Alaa Labidi, Amor Laabidi’s brother, has declared that Police Officers had contacted him to transmit the news of the disappearance of his brother in the river. Yet he accused Police officers’s complicity in the accident, based on and consistent and corroborated accounts of eyewitnesses, all of which are Omar’s friends.
The Tunisian Ministry of the Interior in turn has denied all accounts affirming Police Officers’ involvement with Omar’s drowning. The Interior Ministry spokesman, Admiral Khelifa Chibani, that these accounts “are exaggerated” .
The syndicate of Internal Security Forces has denounced the #تعلم_عوم (learn to swim) campaign, claiming that it stirs up the public against Police officers and incite hate and commotion between the Tunisian people and them. It has even suspected the integrity of the accounts stated by the eyewitnesses who were present at the moment Omar drowned.
A television report has revealed that a local citizen had filmed the police pursuit somewhere nearby the incident’s scene. The report has also confirmed that this person changed his statements and deleted the video from his phone.
Witnesses retracting their statements and abstaining from testifying in cases involving Policemen abuses and violations is not big big news in Tunisia. Throughout the past years, victims of Police abuse, along with their families, have been blackmailed and threatened to drop their complaints against some police officers, perpetrators of abuse and torture offences.
Thousands of Tunisians have attended Amor Laabidi’s funeral, among which a lot of football supporters were present. The past week witnessed a lot of support throughout Stadiums, banners reading #تعلم_عوم (learn to swim) were risen. A lot of public figures living both in and outside of Tunisia have joined the campaign, tweeting the hashtag #تعلم_عوم. The main demand is to conduct an official investigation casting light on the whole incident, and punishing the perpetrators.
The community of football supporters has naturally joined the campaign through numerous gestures of solidarity, from communiqués to songs honoring the memory of Amor Laabidi. One particular song, claims that “the uprising is coming”.
Amor Laabidi was born in Fouchana, a town ,despite being at just 10 km south from the capital, suffer marginalization and absence of entertainment and cultural activities. Under these conditions, youngsters like Amor Laabidi are left with groups of Football Supporters as their sole outlet and breathing space, in a country where youth feel a permanent frustration and a lack of social, economical and political perspectives.
Omar was set to sit for the national baccalaureate exam in two-months’ time. His friends confirmed that he was a non-violent person, and had a clean criminal record. He was not an extremist in any aspect. As stated by his supporters’ group, the North Vandals, "his only guilt was the fact that he is a Tunisian citizen
The crime was met with complete indifference from both the government and the politicians.
And in front of the government’s dubious policy of silence, numerous activists, notably the artist Bayram Kilani (AKA Bendirman), who has been opposing the authorities since Ben Ali, have issued an electronic petition “Justice for Omar”, calling to uncover the murderers of Omar and prosecute them. So far, the Petition counts more than 2k signatures.
The petition says that “In Tunisia, a country which is often described as portraying the only glimmer of hope in terms of human rights in the MENA region, the only Arab spring country which effectively developed into a democracy” and that “, a crime which was greeted with widespread indifference by the Tunisian Government and politicians of all sides.”
Some activists have questioned the logic behind the pursuit that let to this tragedy, and the “potential danger” of Omar and his friends leading the police officers to hunt them for more than 2 km.