Prominent Tunisian human rights activist and blogger, Lina Ben Mhenni, who played a crucial role in documenting human rights abuses in Tunisia during the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the subsequent 2011 Tunisian uprising, died on January 27, Monday. Mhenni, 36, was suffering from an autoimmune illness for a long period due to which she had also undergone a kidney transplant.
The activist was a lecturer of Linguistics at the Tunis University and had been vocal on social and political issues in the country. After street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze on December 17, 2010, triggering what became known as the Arab spring, Lina was the first blogger to visit the city to take stock of the economic and social conditions. She also visited other downtrodden and economically poor areas in the interior regions of the country and reported on the protests and the anger and frustration of the people against the Ben Ali regime. She also exposed the brutal crackdown against the protesters by the police and security forces.
Lina had became famous for her blog, ‘A Tunisian girl’, through which she chronicled the day-to-day events and happenings in Tunisia, before, during and after the revolution, serving as an important independent observer and a voice for the protesters and the common people of Tunisia. Written in English, French, Arabic, it was banned by Ben Ali’s government in 2007. Her blogs were considered pivotal in the 2011 uprising, which ultimately resulted in the end of dictatorship in the country and the ouster of Ben Ali.
Following the revolution, she continued to highlight the problems that ordinary Tunisians were facing, as well as human rights abuses and other abuses of power by the new government. As a result, she was forced to live under police protection after receiving threats to her life from extremist groups. The government had informed her in 2013 that she was “number 1 on the kill list” of hardline groups.
Lina’s father, Sadok Ben Mhenni, was himself an activist and a political prisoner of the Ben Ali regime and suffered torture at its hands. He later went on to become one of the founders of the Tunisian branch of Amnesty international.
For her extremely critical and path breaking work, she was nominated for the Nobel peace prize in 2011.Many activists, journalists, as well as the culture ministry of Tunisia have expressed shock and sadness at the news of her untimely demise.