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.”