Swarms of photographers surrounded a woman, blinding those near her with their flashes. Officials and journalists alike waited eagerly in a makeshift line to greet this woman who clearly was revered by those at the opening session for World Press Freedom Day in Tunis.
The woman at the center of this attention was Tawakkol Karman, was a 33 year old Yemeni journalist, known in her country as the mother of the revolution, and now known throughout the world as one of three women to share the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. She has been in and out of jail, but still speaks out.
"We have risen for freedom of the press," she told a rapt audience from all over the world. "The young have sacrificed themselves while writing, filming and texting in alleys, and streets...to express their wills and to bring down their oppressors." Karman's words drew rousing applause. She concluded by warning those who try to stop free expression that it will bring about a "second, third or tenth revolution."
Karman was among the better known female journalists attending UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) in Tunis this year, but she was not alone.
Thirty-one year old Rafika Fejjari who works for Tunisia's Hannibal TV, began her journalism career six years ago under the Ben Ali regime. "My parents did not want me to become a journalist," she told me. Her first project was a documentary about a woman who converted from Islam to Christianity, a taboo subject. It took her two years to complete and her professor nearly flunked her.
Two years ago, she said she was arrested because she spoke to the wrong person. She explained that it is so important that World Press Freedom Day is held in Tunisia to shine a spotlight on journalists and freedom of expression. She said things are far from perfect, but she is optimistic.
"I have to stay in the system to keep pushing for change," Fejjari explained. "You cannot do this from the outside."
Then there's 32 years old Intesar Khalifa El Barasi from Benghazi, Libya, who is attending WPFD conference as a press fellow sponsored by the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. She has been a journalist for years and was arrested in November 2010 for charges claiming she committed a crime against the Qaddafi regime. She was freed after six months but was forced to switch jobs -- until Qaddafi fell.
El Barasi then sold her car and her jewelry so she could start The Eye, a newspaper where she is editor in chief. She said that she had the fortune of receiving training from the outside so she knows what "independent" journalism is. She said that she hopes to raise awareness that Libya is in desperate need of media training. Still she is optimistic. "We are looking to be better," explaining that everyone is tired from the "war.""I'm here in Tunis today, because I have hope."For information on threats to journalists' freedom of expression visit "Free the Press" on HumanRights.gov.