French police under fire for the death of young Tunisian

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Witnesses accused the police of blunder following the arrest and death of a young Tunisian on Friday in the city of Grasse (South East France). However, the Inspector General of National Police (IGPN – l’Inspection générale de la police nationale) and the regional administration (la préfecture des Alpes-Maritimes) claim that no element whatsoever links the police to the death. An autopsy is being conducted.

By Hanan Ben Rhouma

Over a thousand people held a peaceful demonstration in the memory of the young Abdelakim Ajimi (a.k.a Hakim), 22 years, who lost his life following an abusive police questioning in the city of Grasse, situated in the south eastern part of France. The march would have been conducted in total silence had it not been for the brief passage by the police station, when the deceased Hakim’s family placed at the head of the procession could not contain themselves anylonger. The three words written on the banner were “Police Blunder, assassins”. As for those present at the march, there was no doubt that the police was to be held responsible.

Back to the scene of the incident

Friday afternoon, Hakim wanted to withdraw some cash from Crédit agricole (bank). Upon the bank’s refusal to give him the money, he got angry, against the bank employees and the company. Alerted by the bank manager, the police intervened to “calm” him down. In a communiqué, Dominique Vian, Prefect of Alpes-Maritimes, declared that the young man had violently fought against police questioning, thereby wounding two police officers — one hospitalised for a collarbone fracture.

But, according to several witnesses, it was after he had been handcuffed that things got out of hand. Ludovic Gérard, a 30 year old dog-handler talked about “the lawful beating” on France Info radio. Speaking to Libération, he said “he was on the ground. There were three of them on top of him. A policeman was exerting pressure on his vertebral column with his knee. Another was stifling him with his arm. He had his handcuffed hands under his torso. He was purple and begging to breath. He got two punches instead, two good ones. I told the policemen : “you have him under control now, what more are you looking for?” Another witness, 17 year old Layla Picout recounts the same story : “he was defenceless, stuck to the ground, completely overturned, lying stone cold as though he was already gone. He looked like a marshmallow when he was hauled, handcuffed, into the back of their car”. According to the commissioner of police, Hakim died of discomfort while being transfered to the hospital from the police station around 4:30 pm.

Lots of witnesses

A municipal policeman , however, insists that Hakim died during his transfer to the police station. Moreover, more than ten people were witnesses to last Friday’s scene which was filmed by one of them. For the moment though, “there is no evidence to prove the policemen are guilty”, according to the prefect. Hakim, already known to the police was once a pschiatric hospital inmate. He was also questioned in March for conduct under the influence of drugs and was to appear in court in june. All those who knew him agreeon one thing « he was “Mr. Nice Guy”.

In the meantime

The IGPN, the police of the police force, is now in charge of the case. An autopsy conducted on Tuesday at Nice stands to throw more light on the circumstances leading to the death of Hakim. Meanwhile, the public prosecutor’s department in Tunis has opened an investigation and also called for the justification of the acts that killed the young Tunisian citizen.

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