Lina Ben Mhenni, an assistant language professor at the University of Tunis, has been actively blogging in French, English and Arabic since 2007.
Her blog "A Tunisian Girl" won the seventh annual Deutsche Welle Blog Awards: The BOBs, prizes given in six multilingual categories by an international jury of blog and media experts and an online community of over 90,000 people.
During the protests in December 2010 and January 2011, she traveled to places including Sidi Bouzid and Kasrine to document the repression and killings occurring there. She also writes for Global Voices Online.
IJNet caught up with the "Tunisian Girl" and asked her a few questions about censorship, blogging and journalism.
IJNet: Why did you start blogging?
Lina Ben Mhenni I started blogging by accident. I read an article about blogging and I was attracted [to it] because I have the habit of writing my thoughts on scraps of paper and I wanted to share them with people on the Internet. I wanted to express myself…
IJNet: You represent a large number of women your age, you say things boldly and you have a gift for writing. What's next for you? Do you plan to stay in Tunisia or leave?
Lina Ben Mhenni I will continue blogging as I did before January 14, 2011. That is what I know and especially what I like to do. Writing, denouncing, using the language of my country and raising awareness. I'll stay in my country. I do not want to go elsewhere. The country needs its youth to build its democracy.
IJNet: Can you tell us about freedom of expression in Tunisia before the fall of Ben Ali’s regime?
Lina Ben Mhenni There was no freedom of expression when Ben Ali was in power. Anyone who dared to speak freely had to pay, either by censorship or being arrested or facing harassment. Traditional media were pure propaganda from the Ben Ali regime.
IJNet: In one of your posts, written in French, you recount an incident using the metaphor of being raped...How are things changing now for bloggers in Tunisia after Ben Ali was ousted?
Lina Ben Mhenni Well, things have changed. My blog and other blogs are not censored anymore. The lifting of censorship is a great achievement. But we still notice the presence of the political police on the streets. A blogger was attacked in February. The assault was initiated by a member of the political police. But we do feel more freedom. We write everything we want to and say it explicitly, we no longer look for metaphors and satire.
IJNet: What message would you like to share with bloggers who are still in prison in other Arab countries, Syria, Bahrain, etc.?
Lina Ben Mhenni I want to tell them: you are not alone. We are here to support you. All dictatorships will eventually fall. Once free, do not abandon [your work], continue to use words to denounce the wrongdoings of the state. Words are weapons that can be used to fight dictatorships.
IJNet: Is there a blogging community in Tunisia?
Lina Ben Mhenni Bloggers in Tunisia know each other. Bloggers have participated in several campaigns together. They went from virtually knowing each other to actually meeting in person. Yes, we are a community.
IJNet: What do you think is the difference between a blogger and journalist? Do you plan to pursue journalism?
Lina Ben Mhenni I do not think I am going to become a journalist. A journalist has a background in journalism, I do not have it. I am a blogger. No one dictates my editorial line, I write what I want.
IJNet: Do you have any general tips about what makes good online writing?
Lina Ben Mhenni Well, write what you feel. Write what you see. Be precise. Be concise. Do not forget to include photos and videos in your posts...
IJNet: How do you keep up momentum when there are no breaking events to write about?
Lina Ben Mhenni My blog is varied, if I am not covering an event, I talk about books I have read, movies that I have seen. Sometimes I write poems.
IJNet: Do you think you've won the battle against censorship now?
Lina Ben Mhenni The battle against censorship never ends. We must preserve this new freedom and fight against self-censorship.
A version of this story first appeared in the Arabic edition of IJNet