Lina Ben Mhenni was buried in the honorary area of the main cemetery in TunisImage: DW/S. Mersch
Freedom of Speech
Tunisia mourns the death of Lina Ben Mhenni
January 29, 2020
On January 28, 2020 Tunisia bid farewell to blogger Lina Ben Mhenni with a state funeral. Mhenni was a renowned activist and one of the voices of the Arab Spring in 2011. She died on January 27 after a long illness.
The Tunisian national anthem, chants and political battle cries echoed over the Jellaz cemetery in Tunis, where hundreds of Tunisians paid their last respects to Lina Ben Mhenni. "Rest in peace, Lina, we continue the fight," chanted the mourners.
Other slogans echoed the issues the blogger had championed throughout her life, for freedom and against forgetting the dictatorship. The petite but energetic activist was an honest fighter, always guided by her conscience, never by political calculation.
"She was a symbol of the youth in Tunisia and always worked to improve the living conditions of the youth," said Rached, a friend of the deceased. In addition to family, friends and companions, there were politicians, and also citizens like Leila who only knew the blogger from the media, but were impressed by her tireless commitment to others. "I felt the need to be there. For me, she always represented the youth who couldn't go through life so light-footedly," said the woman in her mid-fifties.
Blogging and rebellion
Lina Ben Mhenni's death caused a lot of dismay and sympathy in Tunisia. On Monday, President Kais Saïed had personally condoled the Ben Mhennis family.
Ben Mhenni was already blogging before the political upheaval, campaigning for freedom of speech, despite massive censorship and harassment of opposition members under the dictatorship. She became internationally known in 2011 through her blog "A Tunisian Girl."
She was one of the first bloggers to report in English from the central Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid, where the uprisings of the Arab Spring originated. For her commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of opinion, she was considered a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize and was honored, among others, at the DW blog awards The Bobs in 2011.
Library in prison
Ben Mhenni continued to engage in social and political issues even after the first wave of attention after the protests had subsided. When she noticed the poor equipment in the libraries during a visit to a Tunisian prison, she organized a fundraising campaign for books. Together with her father Sadok Ben Mhenni, a former political prisoner, and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), she collected thousands of books for the prisoners.
The English lecturer and translator was particularly committed to the topic of organ donation. Due to a chronic illness, both of her kidneys failed in 2005 while she was studying. After two years of dialysis, she received a donor kidney from her mother in 2007.
"That was very difficult because I was one semester away from graduation and had to write my exams. So I went from the hospital bed to the examination room," she recalled. "If I hadn't had the luck that my mother donated a kidney to me, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I wouldn't have been able to report on the events of the revolution. The donation allowed me to live. She gave me a second chance."
Although Lina Ben Mhennis' health had deteriorated considerably in recent weeks, she insisted on going to the vigil of the families of the victims of the revolution, on the anniversary of the revolution on January 14, as she does every year. The 36-year-old died on Monday in a hospital in the capital Tunis.