Tunisian footballer Nizar Issaoui dies after setting himself alight in protest of ‘police state’

Tunisian footballer Nizar IssaouiTwitter

A professional footballer in Tunisia has died after setting himself alight earlier this week in what he called a protest against the “police state” ruling the country, his brother said Friday.

Nizar Issaoui, 35, suffered third-degree burns from his action in the village of Haffouz in the central region of Kairouan, his brother Ryad told AFP.

He was taken from hospital in Kairouan to the specialist burns hospital in the capital Tunis, but doctors were unable to save his life, the brother said.

“He died yesterday (Thursday) and will be buried today.”

Mourners carry the coffin of 35-year-old Nizar Issaoui, during his funeral in the village of Haffouz in the central Tunisian region of Kairouan on 14 April 2023

Issaoui’s protest recalled that of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who burned himself to death on 17 December 2010, sparking the Tunisian revolution that was the trigger for the Arab Spring uprisings which toppled authoritarian regimes across the Middle East.

News of Issaoui’s death sparked protests on the streets of Haffouz on Thursday evening, Tunisian media reported. Young demonstrators hurled stones at police who responded with tear gas.

There was no immediate comment from the authorities.

On Friday, hundreds of mourners gathered outside Issaoui’s house awaiting his funeral, shouting, “With our blood and with our soul we will sacrifice ourselves for you, Nizar”.

Policemen fire teargas at demonstrators during a protest in the village of Haffouz

During his funeral, clashes broke out between protesters and the police, who fired tear gas, local media reported.

Issaoui was a free agent at the time of his death, after a career that saw him play for a range of clubs from the lower divisions to the top flight.

In a Facebook post shortly before his fatal action, Issaoui said he had sentenced himself to “death by fire”.

“I have no more energy. Let the police state know that the sentence will be executed today,” he wrote.

According to Tunisian media, Issaoui decided to make his extreme protest against the police after officers accused him of “terrorism” when he complained that he was unable to buy bananas for less than 10 dinars ($3.30) a kilogramme, double the price set by the government.

A video selfie circulating on social media shows Issaoui screaming, “For a dispute with someone selling bananas at 10 dinars, I get accused of terrorism at the police station. Terrorism for a complaint about bananas.”