Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi has been honoured with this year’s Human Rights Defenders at Risk award by the Dublin-based Front Line Defenders foundation. She is staff-member of Syrian Centre of Media and Information (SCM), a Hivos partner and strong advocate of citizen journalists. She was arrested during a raid on the SCM office in February, together with 15 other colleagues.
Ghazzawi, who has become a symbol of the Syrian uprising, is currently on trial before a military court charged with “possessing prohibited materials with the intent to disseminate them”.
Front Line said she was presented with the award at a ceremony in Dublin’s City Hall by Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Societies Foundations and a founder of Human Rights Watch, for her “exceptional contribution” to human rights. Her colleague Dlshad Othman, who has himself been a target for the Syrian authorities because of his human rights work and had to leave Syria two months ago for his own security, accepted the award on Ghazzawi’s behalf.
In a statement read out on Ghazzawi’s behalf at the ceremony she said she saw the award as being was for all citizen journalists “who died trying to tell the world what’s happening in Syria, when the traditional media have failed to do so”. “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,” she 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. Her colleague and director of SCM, Mazen Darwish is currently being held in incommunicado in detention with four other colleagues. Front Line said Ghazzawi is 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 crackdown on free speech activists and restrict the flow of information out of Syria,” Front Line said. Front Line founder and executive director Mary Lawlor said the fact the foundation had received more nominations for the award that ever before – 107 from 46 countries – was a sign of the increased levels of repression faced by human rights defenders in many countries. “Razan Ghazzawi is typical of the selfless courage shown by all the human rights defenders nominated for this year’s award. “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,” Lawlor said. Since the start of the Syrian uprising Ghazzawi, an English literature graduate from Damascus University, has become a symbol of the resistance to the repression by the Syrian Government.
Front Line said she is known for her fierce criticism of the government, mostly expressed on her blog Razaniyyat and via her twitter account @RedRazan. Social networking sites have played a key role in mobilising the anti-regime protests which have swept Syria since March, 2010. Thousands of people have been killed, according to the United Nations, in Syria’s crackdown on dissent.
Foreign journalists are mostly banned from covering the unrest, leaving the international media dependent on reports from activists and videos on YouTube and other Internet sites, posted at the risk of arrest