Hanène Zbiss receives the 2019 Raif Badawi Award

Hanène Zbiss is an investigative journalist who writes mainly on Iraq and Tunisia, most recently for Inkyfada. In Tunisia, she became known for her publications on so-called Quran nursery schools. Her investigations focused on the brain-washing practised there that turn very young children into extremists.

She also reports on the fate of the wives and children of former IS fighters now trying to return to Tunisia. In 2019, Hanène Zbiss was awarded this prize for courageous journalists in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Raif Badawi Award for courageous journalists, initiated by Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and TV presenter Constantin Schreiber, serves as a reminder of the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years’ imprisonment for his texts critical of Islam. The prize is sponsored by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels.

How would you describe the current situation for independent journalism in your country? Hanène Zbiss: The freedom of the press has increased greatly in Tunisia since the Arab Spring. Now everyone can express their opinion in the traditional media or the social media without fear of prosecution. My country is now in 72nd place in the ranking by Reporters Without Borders, a significant improvement from rank 97 in the previous year. However, new problems are now becoming apparent. The media sector is controlled by corrupt businesspeople and some high-ranking political representatives.

You became known in Tunisia by an investigative report uncovering systematic brain-washing in Quran nursery schools. What effects did your publication have? Hanène Zbiss: After my report was published, 100 Quran nursery schools were closed in 2013, leaving only 40 of them in all of Tunisia. But in the following years, governments failed to target these structures. Today, there are 1,130 of these Quran nursery schools. In my opinion, journalists have a duty to uncover problems that may pose a risk to social harmony and to people living together in a society.

In one of his essays, Raif Badawi wrote, ‘You are a human being? Then it is your right to express yourself and to think as you see fit.’ How can a journalist, in particular, do justice to this call? Hanène Zbiss: For me, every person has the right to express their opinion, no matter what their religion, ethnic group, gender, social position, or cultural background. We are all human beings, so we have the same rights and obligations. When I hear that someone, somewhere in this world, is deprived of these essential rights, I take that as an attack on me personally.

Jury statement of Hanène Zbiss “With her journalistic work, Hanéne Zbiss gives a voice to those who do not have one themselves. Her courage to stand up for the strengthening of democracy in Tunisia and to change her country sustainably is honorable, ”said the jury, consisting of Ensaf Haidar (Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom), Andreas Cichowicz (NDR), Florian Harms (t -online.de), David Schraven (Correctiv), Andrea Backhaus (ZEIT ONLINE) and Astrid Frefel (Freelance Journalist), their decision.

Learn more about the work of investigative journalist Hanène Zbiss in our portrait:

Hanène Zbiss honored - Read more about the award ceremony at the Frankfurt Book Fair: