Blogger and symbol of Syria uprising wins Front Line human rights award
PROIFILE:Activist Razan Ghazzawi is on trial in a military court for her part in the anti-regime protest
SYRIAN BLOGGER and activist Razan Ghazzawi yesterday paid tribute to citizen journalists in her country who have “died trying to tell the world what is happening in Syria when the traditional media have failed to do so”.
She made the remarks in a statement read on her behalf after she was announced the winner of this year’s human rights defenders at risk award by the Dublin-based organisation Front Line Defenders.
Ghazzawi, a US-born English literature graduate from Damascus University who has become a symbol of the Syrian uprising, is on trial before a military court charged with “possessing prohibited materials with the intent to disseminate them”.
She became known for her passionate criticism of the Assad regime on her blog Razaniyyat and her Twitter account, @RedRazan.
Activists have used social networking sites to help mobilise the anti-regime protests that have swept Syria since March last year. More than 10,000 people have been killed as the Assad regime attempts to snuff out what has become an increasingly militarised and fragmented opposition.
The Syrian government has refused international media unrestricted access to cover the unrest, forcing journalists to rely on activist accounts and videos on YouTube and other sites.
Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Foundations and a founder of Human Rights Watch, presented the award at a ceremony in Dublin’s City Hall, citing Ghazzawi’s “exceptional contribution” to human rights.
Her colleague Dlshad Othman, who has himself been targeted by the Syrian authorities because of his human rights work and who was forced to flee Syria two months ago for his safety, accepted the award on her behalf.
“Syrian citizen journalists and filmmakers tell the revolution in all its colours, through the good times and the bad times. And many have died doing so,” Ghazzawi’s statement said.
Ghazzawi and six other female activists were recently freed from detention. They had been arrested during a raid on the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, where Ghazzawi worked.
It was her second arrest at the hands of the Syrian security services. Her colleague and director of the centre, Mazen Darwish, is being held incommunicado by the Syrian authorities with four other colleagues.
Front Line said Ghazzawi was on trial because she used her blog and the power of social media to “expose the crimes being committed by the Syrian regime”.
“The ongoing trial is an attempt by the government to crack down on free speech activists and restrict the flow of information out of Syria,” Front Line said.
“She has challenged the repressive forces of the Syrian regime and has chosen not to hide behind a pseudonym but to speak out publicly. In doing so she has become a force to be reckoned with,” Front Line director Mary Lawlor added.
When Ghazzawi was arrested last December while on her way to a workshop in Jordan, her friend, Jillian C York, a director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, praised her as a “consummate” activist.
“[She is] never content to let something slide, always thinking, sometimes too much. She is passionate about LGBT and gender rights, Palestine and, of course, her beautiful Syria,” York said.
“What I appreciate and respect the most about Ghazzawi (and what I suspect is what irks a lot of other people about her), however, is her honesty and humanity. Though a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights, she has denounced the double standards of Palestinian resistance groups that have expressed support for the Syrian regime. She has not been afraid to speak up against those she disagrees with, even her friends. For that, she is among my heroes.”
York said Ghazzawi was realistic about the wider role of social media in Syria, where about 20 per cent have access to the internet, and faster DSL phone lines are mostly unavailable outside Damascus and throughout the region.
“But if there is one thing that represents Ghazzawi more than anything, it is her belief in the power of people – not politicians, not parties, but individuals,” York said, going on to cite a line from a blog post Ghazzawi wrote last October: “It’s time for people’s self-determination to rule the region, you just wait and watch.”
IN HER OWN WORDS: THE POSTINGS OF RAZAN GHAZZAWI
“Do you understand, that I was scared to protest, but now I am no longer scared? Do you understand that I was scared of detention and now we don’t even think about it? ‘Fuck it all. My people are being killed,’ is what everyone is saying.”
“There is a common feeling that is generally discussed in Syria, well, at least in Damascus where I live. It has to do with the question: ‘What can I do more for the revolution?’”
“I can write about those amazing revolutionaries who left their families and children and [are] living solely for this revolution . . . some were detained and tortured, you stand listening to them speak about their experience with detention, and you know that what you witnessed from detention is nothing compared to theirs, those unknown activists, the unprivileged, who don’t have Facebook nor Twitter, but they are the very ones who inspire you and make you truly believe that there is hope.”
“People who do not live in a country that is living a revolution may not know that time is revolutionaries’ biggest enemy . . .
“I have a 10-to-5 job, after that I go to do some other work till 9, sometimes till 11.
“I get home to check my email and
Facebook to discover new massacres, new statements, and further escalations on many levels.”
“Yesterday, regime army bombed the neighborhood of Karm El- Zeitoun in the city of Homs and destroyed several buildings, two whole streets were evacuated, and 27 civilians killed, many were injured . . . [the] regime’s violence keeps surprising us. Last night when I saw this picture I froze for a moment before I ‘shared’ it on my [Facebook] wall. I didn’t cry, I didn’t have room for more anger, I just felt helpless, I felt time was, is, not on my side . . . After last night’s massacre, Syrians now feel more outraged and will cry for the right to self-defense, even if they didn’t agree with the term the day before.
“That’s precisely how regime violence is pushing the country to more violence, that’s precisely how time moves very rapidly, and leaves you back in history.”