Unable to bear the demand for bribes and abuse from the police, a Tunisian fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in December. Anger spread across Tunisia and online as Bouazizi lay in a hospital bed for more than a fortnight, his face wrapped in thick bandages. He died on January 4, and Tunisians took to the streets. An Arabic rap song titled “President Of The Country” sung by a young man named Hamada Ben Amor served as the background of the revolution. On January 14, President Ben Ali and his wife fled for Saudi Arabia.
In Egypt, a young businessman named Khaled Said died in police custody last year after being tortured. Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, set up a Facebook site named “We are all Khaled Said” which listed other police brutalities and revealed the extent of police violence in the country. Soon drawing more than 400,000 followers, it became the rallying point for the protests which eventually brought President Mubarak down.
What lessons do these two events sparked by police brutality, the fires of which have now spread across the authoritarian Arab world, have for the Sri Lankan police? Our police are notorious for bribe taking, framing innocent victims, rape, and torture. Higher officers only have contempt for the lower ranks. If the IGP is unable to reform his force, the ordinary people of Sri Lanka will revolt. We only need a Hamada Ben Amor or a Wael Ghonim.