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.