While the revolutions and continuing turmoil in many Arab nations surprised observers both inside and outside the countries, there have in fact been tireless and courageous individuals who have worked to bring about this change. Sihem Bensedrine is one of these brave individuals.
Now 61, Ms. Bensedrine is a journalist and a human rights activist who began advocating freedom of speech and democracy in her home country of Tunisia while still studying philosophy in Paris. During her career as a journalist, she worked for several newspapers, some subsequently closed by the government for being too critical of the regime.
She was co-founder of the magazine ‘Kalima’ (the word). As the Tunisian government would not issue the paper a license, an online newspaper was released. Despite being banned and having the site blocked by the government, the internet site had some 40,000 readers per month, who had learned to circumvent the blockades in such a way that it was impossible for the authorities to identify them.
"The internet", says Sihem Bensedrine, "is the virtual space that is most likely to provide a secure place for resistance. The relatively free communication in the World Wide Web has proven to be a key to the democratization of society." A radio station of the same name, 'Radio Kalima', went into service shortly after the paper began publishing and was also denied a license by the government.
Her persistence and commitment was not without personal consequence and danger. Ms. Bensedrine was the target of smear campaigns in the state's media and was attacked and injured by 'unknown persons' in the street several times, as well as being arrested and tortured by the Tunisian authorities. Those attempts at intimidation, however, were not successful: "They have confiscated my freedom, so I have the obligation to fight," says Bensedrine, "for a woman it is particularly necessary to revolt against any kind of oppression."
With the support of the Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted People and a scholarship from the Writers in Exile Program of the German P.E.N., she came for extended visits to Germany and Austria. With increasing threats to her life, she was forced into exile from Tunisia in 2009. Early in 2011, however, she returned to help support the creation of a democratic state.