TUNIS — Lina Ben Mhenni, an activist blogger who bore witness to the 2010-11 popular uprising in Tunisia and the violent reaction of the country’s autocratic regime, a clash that heralded the chain of revolts known as the Arab Spring, died on Monday in Tunis. She was 36.
Her death, in a hospital, was caused by a stroke resulting from complications of an autoimmune disease, her family said.
For weeks Ms. Ben Mhenni was on the front lines during the Tunisian uprising, drawing international attention through her blog, A Tunisian Girl.
In December 2010 and again in January, she and other bloggers traveled to the central city of Sidi Bouzid after a street vendor there, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest after a confrontation with a police officer who had slapped him and confiscated his wares. News of his self-immolation set off the Tunisian uprising and the subsequent Arab Spring.
In Tunisia, the revolt led to the overthrow in January of President Zine el-Abiddine Ben Ali, who had held the country in an oppressive grip since seizing power in 1987.
Ms. Ben Mhenni documented police violence against protesters in several regions while the Ben Ali regime sought to impose a news media blackout. She took photographs and wrote accounts, posting them on her blog and on her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Several French media outlets that could not enter the country were able to report on the violence because of her work.
“Sidi Bouzid is burning, self-immolations are rising in the country, and the people who are doing it have often lost any hope to get a decent life,” she wrote on her blog on Dec. 19, 2010, almost a month before Mr. Ben Ali’s fall. “Because the government is indifferent to the troubles of its citizens, we as a civil society need to take action.”
Ms. Ben Mhenni was one of many young people in Arab countries who used social media and blogs to document the protests and the subsequent crackdowns that state-controlled media ignored, providing outside news organizations that were barred from the country with rare glimpses of the turmoil in the streets and insights into the mood of the people.
“We, the bloggers, are free, and we have always refused to take part in any organization,” she wrote in a slim book about her experiences, “Tunisian Girl: Blogger for an Arab Spring” (2011). “No one is the leader in the cyber-dissidence space. There is no rule, no limit. We are far more efficient this way.”
The risks were clear. “Of course I had fear, but when I saw people killed by the police, I forgot it, and it gave me the strength to do my work,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 2011.
Ms. Ben Mhenni remained a leading voice of protest against continuing corruption and suppression of civil liberties in her country. She spoke out on behalf of people who had been wounded during the uprising but were denied compensation as well as justice against the government perpetrators. She took strong positions against Islamists and those seeking a return to an authoritarian government. And she faced death threats, receiving police protection in 2013, the same year two leaders of leftist opposition parties, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, were assassinated.
In a Facebook post the night she died, Ms. Ben Mhenni criticized political leaders for not fulfilling the expectations of the people who had perished during the Arab Spring.
Hundreds of people flocked to her funeral procession on Tuesday, some chanting, “We will not forgive!” (a slogan of the anticorruption movement), “Equality for women!” and “Justice for the martyrs of the revolution!” Both men and women carried her coffin, a rare public mingling of the sexes in conservative Tunisia.
President Kais Saied offered condolences to her family. On Twitter, the prime minister-designate, Elyes Fakhfakh, called Ms. Ben Mhenni an “icon of civil activism.”
Lina Ben Mhenni was born on May 22, 1983, and raised in Tunis. Her parents, both of whom survive her, were from Djerba, on the country’s southeastern coast. Her father, Sadok Ben Mhenni, was a leftist opponent of the government of Habib Bourguiba, whom Mr. Ben Ali had deposed, and spent six years in prison because of his politics.
Her mother, Emna Ben Ghorbal, teaches Arabic. She donated a kidney to her daughter in 2007 as part of treatment for the autoimmune disease. In addition to her parents, a younger brother, Amine, survives her.
Ms. Ben Mhenni studied English at Tunis University and taught Arabic for a year at Tufts University outside Boston. She returned to Tunis to teach English at the university there.
She twice competed in the World Transplant Games — for athletes who have received transplants — in Thailand and Australia, and won a silver medal in athletic walking in 2009.
Ms. Ben Mhenni started blogging after her transplant, speaking out for women’s rights and, defying government censorship, reporting on protests over poor labor conditions.
Most recently she was working with the Tunisian branch of the World Organization Against Torture to collect books for prison libraries, an initiative she began in 2016. Last year she had brought more than 45,000 books to jails throughout her country.
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