Before Syrian blogger Razzan Ghazzawi was arrested Sunday afternoon, she told her friends, “If anything happens to me, know that the regime does not fear the prisoners but rather those of you who do not forget them."
The 30-year-old activist, one of the few to go by her real name in Syria, is known by friends and colleagues for being outspoken and fearless. She was detained by Syrian authorities near the border with Jordan while on her way to a conference on press freedom, “Defenders and Media Freedom in the Arab World.” By Monday afternoon, more than 3,000 people had joined the Facebook page "Free Syrian Blogger& Activist Razan Ghazzawi."
Ghazzawi is among dozens of journalists and bloggers who have been detained since Syria’s uprising began nearly nine months ago. Born in the United States, she studied literature at the University of Damascus and then pursued her studies with an MA at Balamand University in Lebanon. She launched her personal blog, Razabiyyat – which friends closed upon hearing of her arrest -- in 2009.
“Her femininity and her voice of freedom are much braver than the masculinity of every security officer and every government official in Syria,” says Amjad Baiazy, friend and fellow activist who worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres until he was arrested in May and imprisoned for two months (he now resides in the U.K.).
He tells The Daily Star that Ghazzawi has consistently spoken out on behalf of everyone, despite their convictions. A secular activist, she defended women’s right to wear the hijab as well as others’ rights to challenge it. Born to parents from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, she has advocated against occupation as well as Syria’s domestic policy.
“What I love about Razzan is that she is not hypocritical,” says Baiazy. “She was very outspoken and always spoke out against injustice.”
Indeed, it is this very courage that made friends fear for her arrest, yet be comforted that if anything should happen to her, the authorities could not easily make her disappear in the abyss of nameless detainees.
Amnesty International researcher Neil Sammonds describes Ghazzawi’s high profile status as a “mixed blessing.” He says, “It put her more at risk of arrest, but – we hope – less at risk of being badly treated. Having a higher profile, being a woman and having U.S. nationality should mean she is less at risk.”
Still he notes, “We have names of 180 people reported to have died in custody since March. We are issuing a statement on her today [Monday]. If she is not released shortly, we will likely issue an Urgent Action on her. But of course there are already so many in similar situations.”
Since Syria’s popular uprising began on March 15, the United Nations estimates that some 4,000 people, mainly civilians, have died in the government crackdown. Syria blames the unrest on armed gangs trying to incite sectarian strife.
By Brooke Anderson.