Ben Mhenni was born in 1983 into a well-off family with a history of political activism. Her father, who was a left-wing militant and opponent of the regime of former President Bourguiba, had been detained and tortured in prison. Ben Mhenni’s brother helped establish the Tunisian office of Amnesty International.
She grew up hearing her father discussing politics with his friends, reading books and watching news channels instead of television series.
When Ben Mhenni discovered the web, she joined a community of politically active bloggers and started writing her own blog in 2007. Later she launched another blog, entitled “A Tunisian Girl”, writing about freedom of expression, human rights (women’s and students’ rights in particular) and social problems faced by Tunisians.
From 2008 to 2009, she studied in the United States and also taught Arabic at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Upon her return to Tunisia, she accepted a position as a teaching assistant in Linguistics at the University of Tunis.
In May 2010, Ben Mhenni and her cyberactivist friends organized a peaceful demonstration against the government’s censorship of media via the Internet. When the uprisings then started in December 2010, Ben Mhenni’s blog became one of the most important sources of information for both Tunisians as well as the international media. She went to places like Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine and was one of the first to report on the atrocities committed there by the security forces. She published pictures and videos on her blog to show the brutality of the police in injuring and killing protesters, and revealed the victims’ identities. She went to hospitals, interviewed the families of the victims and disclosed all this information to the public on her blog.
Ben Mhenni also used social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to defend freedom of expression, write about the reality of the human rights situation in Tunisia and mobilize people to take to the streets and protest against Ben Ali and his government.
Following the revolution, Ben Mhenni was involved in the interim government’s reforms to media, information and communication laws, but resigned after a short space of time as she felt nobody would listen to her. She has continued to track the progress of human rights and press freedom in her country. She even tried to boycott the Constituent Assembly elections, as she believed that the Islamist Al-Nahda party, then the leading party in the polls, would buy votes and possibly only pretend to be moderate and modern.
In 2011, Ben Mhenni published her book “Get connected”, received “Best Blog” in Deutsche Welle’s BOB Awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
For 23 years, former Tunisian President Ben Ali led an oppressive regime, prohibiting any opposition or criticism and abusing human rights. It was common practice to persecute and torture opponents to the regime, journalists and human rights defenders. All critics of the government were intimidated and silenced, people arbitrarily arrested and detained, many of them were killed. Severe restrictions applied to freedom of press, speech and association.
Censorship applied to all the new media. Blogs, Facebook pages and news sites criticizing the government and its actions were banned. Most cyberactivists, however, including Ben Mhenni, still found a way around those restrictions and had the courage to express themselves freely and report on the regime’s oppression.
Their accounts of human rights abuses were the only way for the broader public to find out what was really happening in the country when at the same time the local traditional media would hide all those facts and even disseminate false information.
One of the most prominent cyberactivists arrested during the uprisings was Slim Amamou. He was detained by Tunisian authorities from January 6 until January 17, 2011, during which time he was psychologically tortured. The government had hacked his Facebook accounts, stolen passwords and deleted entire pages.
Cyberactivist Ben Mhenni had started defending human rights online long before the protests that led to the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia began. She expressed her opinions through her blog “A Tunisian Girl”, by posting on Facebook and Twitter and on the international blog “Global Voices”.
When the authorities committed the massacres in Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine on January 9 and 10, the most violent days of the uprisings, Ben Mhenni traveled there immediately. As the only blogger to report on the dead and the injured, her accounts, photos and videos were a firsthand source of information for other Tunisian activists and the international media.
Courageously, Ben Mhenni never hid her identity as author of the “A Tunisian Girl” blog. Everybody knew who she was and some even referred to her as the voice of the Tunisian revolution. It was easy to target her as a key figure of the regime’s opposition and she was under constant threat of imprisonment, torture or even death.
Today, Ben Mhenni continues to observe and blog about the development of the human rights situation in Tunisia and the country’s path to democracy.Hint to use Comments / Hinweis zur Kommentarnutzung You can use your Twitter- or Facebookaccount to comment on this Page Du kannst Deinen Twitter- oder Facebook-Account verwenden, um auf dieser Seite zu kommentieren