The recipient of RAW in WAR’s fifth annual Anna Politkovskaya Award is Razan Zaitouneh from Syria. Razan is a 34-year-old human rights lawyer from Syria who has gone into hiding after being accused by the government of being a foreign agent due to her sharing her daily accounts of the atrocities against civilians in Syria with foreign media outlets and on the internet.
The government has imposed a strict ban on access for foreign journalists and human rights advocates to Syria.
Razan’s information website – SHRIL – became the main source of information for foreign media about the killings and torture of civilians by the army and police in Syria. Razan has worked with the Human Rights Association of Syria to monitor and expose domestic human rights violations. She describes the day that she went into hiding:
“On March 23, after the massacre at the Omari mosque in Dera’a, to which protesters had retreated. That day security forces surrounded the mosque and brutally attacked it. I gathered information from Dera’a and passed it on to international media. Subsequently, Syrian state television defamed me as a foreign agent. So I knew they would come to get me soon. I gathered the most necessary things and left my apartment”.
Razan gathers her information for the foreign media through a network of political activists and human rights defenders.
On 12 May 2011, government security agents entered the home of Razan Zaitouneh and searched it, seeking to arrest her. It is reported that when they failed to find her, they arrested her husband, Wa’il Al-Hamada, who was held incommunicado in an unknown location for almost three months and reportedly tortured. He was released on 31July 2011.
The arrest of Wa’il Al-Hamada followed the arrest on 30 April of his brother, ‘Abd-al- Rahman Al-Hamada, a 20-year-old student. The two men were apparently held as pawns to force Razan Zaitouneh to surrender herself to the government and to punish her for her human rights work. Razan Zaitouneh’s elderly parents have also been reportedly forced to hide to escape arrest.
Razan Zaitouneh was born on 29 April 1977. She graduated from law school in 1999 and in 2001 started her work as lawyer. She has been a member of the team of lawyers for the defence of political prisoners since 2001. In the same year, Razan was one of the founders of the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS). In 2005, Razan Zaitouneh established SHRIL (the Syrian Human Rights Information Link), through which she continues to report about human rights violations in Syria. Since 2005, Razan Zaitouneh is also an active member of the Committee to Support Families of Political Prisoners in Syria.
Razan Zaitouneh has conducted interviews with international media networks condemning the acts of the Assad regime, such as the torture and murder of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb, a young boy who had attended a protest against the regime with his father. She advocates for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be referred to the International Criminal Court since his ordered security crackdowns on protests throughout the country killed reportedly more than three thousand civilians.
“We want the whole world to know what’s going on.” Zaitouneh says, “We all know the truth. We all know that the only terrorist group in the country is this regime, who has been killing its own people for more than four months, who has been arresting dozens of thousands of people only because they want their freedom.”