The name “Leena Ben Mhenni” has recently spread like wildfire across the national and international stage, due to the 27 year-old Tunisian activist’s nomination for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Ben Mhenni, however, is no recent addition to the public realm, and she has participated in the online activist culture for several years. Her first post on Global Voices Online, addressing blogging freedom, dates all the way back to October 2008, and her blog “A Tunisian Girl,” or “Benaya Tounsiya,” has gathered over 29,700 fans on Facebook, with its first post dating back to July of 2009. Ben Mhenni’s articles and societal activities have centered around controversial issues within Tunisia, such as the freedom of speech, civil and human liberties, women’s affairs, and students’ rights.
Ben Mhenni is most known for exposing the repression and authoritarianism of the former regime, and more specifically, for her portrayal of confrontations that erupted between Tunisian protesters and the Ben Ali regime in Regueb and Sidi Bouzid in January. When the disturbances in Tunisia began in December 2010 and January 2011, she traveled throughout the country to reveal government misconduct and injustice towards protesters — the pictures that she posted of injured and killed protesters did much to stir public attention. With her blog and articles written in Arabic, French, and English, Leena has conveyed her criticism of the previous regime and commentary on current Tunisian conditions and affairs in multiple languages. Moreover, by publishing the blog under her own name, Ben Mhenni has provided a courageous example for other cyber-activists.
The young Tunisian activist is also known for her various awareness campaigns, such as the one that she launched in November 2009 which demanded the release of Mohamed Soudani, a student who disappeared and was later jailed and allegedly tortured for giving particular statements to the media.
Naturally, because of her public critiques of Ben Ali’s government, Ben Mhenni has received much backlash from the former regime — her Facebook page and e-mail were hijacked, her blog was temporarily banned, and she was harassed and followed by the Tunisian police. Yet in an interview with Deutsche Welle Akademie, she expressed her determination to continue her activities, despite the risks: “To see the suffering of others has led me to forget my own fear. Now, however, it is rather worse. Previously it was clear – the threat came from Ben Ali and the political police. Nowadays it’s no longer clear who is the enemy, the threat may come from all directions.”
Thus, even after the departure of Ben Ali’s corrupt government, Leena Ben Mhenni has continued in her resolve to criticize what she believes is unjust and to preserve the revolution’s accomplishments. Her efforts have gained her the honor of receiving the “Best International Blogger” prize from the Deutsche Blog Welle International Blog Awards, as well as a nomination to receive the 2011 Nobel Prize (a prize which was later awarded to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman).
Apart from her activist agenda, Leena Ben Mhenni is also a professor of Linguistics at the University of Tunis.