August 13, 2012
The information that Sihem and her colleagues have gathered and put out over two decades in Tunisia provides perhaps the sharpest snapshot of repression large and small during the Ben Ali dictatorship.
Eric Goldstein, deputy director, Middle East and North Africa Division

Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.

Journalist and human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine has worked for more than two decades to expose human rights violations in Tunisia and defend freedom of expression. Under the autocratic rule of President Ben Ali, ousted in early 2011 after more than 23 years in power, she was jailed, subjected to smear campaigns, had property confiscated or destroyed, and endured persecution of close relations, including her children.

In 1998, at grave risk to her safety, she co-founded the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT), an organization that actively monitors and publishes information on human rights conditions in Tunisia. Until President Ben Ali fell, the government refused to grant legal recognition to the CNLT. She also co-founded the Observatory for Freedom of the Press, Publishing, and Creation (OLPEC), and Kalima, an independent news website and radio station that authorities frequently raided in attempts to force its closure.

Despite constant harassment and police surveillance by the Ben Ali government, Bensedrine gave countless interviews to international media to increase awareness of human rights violations in Tunisia. She has suffered beatings at the hands of Tunisian police and was imprisoned for two months in 2001 after denouncing torture, corruption, and lack of judicial independence during an interview with a foreign television station.

Amid mounting threats to her safety and increased pressure from the authorities, Bensedrine left for exile in 2009. After Ben Ali’s ouster in January 2011, she returned to Tunis, where she is nowpresident of the Arab Working Group of Media Monitoring. The group works on issues of freedom of expression and has produced reports on how national media covered elections in the Arab world, including those in Tunisia in 2009. Bensedrine is also spokesperson for the National Council for Liberties.

Human Rights Watch honors Sihem Bensedrine for her tremendous courage and perseverance in speaking out against abuses and championing human rights reform in Tunisia. 

More reporting on: