Razan Zeitouneh – Risking her life to report on the revolution and its atrocities

34-year-old Razan Zeitouneh is a lawyer and human rights activist. She is the founder of the website “Syrian Human Rights Information Link” documenting human rights abuses in Syria. When the uprisings began in March Zeitouneh started to write on the arrests, torture, and killings of peaceful protestors committed by the security forces. Her accounts have been one of the key sources of the events taking place in Syria for the outside world. Under the threat of being arrested and killed she now lives in hiding.


Razan Zeitouneh was born in 1977, graduated from law school in 1999 and began her career as a lawyer specializing in the defense of political prisoners. As a member of a team of lawyers defending political prisoners, she met many victims of the regime’s human rights abuses and became an activist herself. In 2001, she co‑founded the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS), which assists prisoners’ families and advocates the rights of women, children and Kurds.

Zeitouneh is also a writer and started to report on human rights violations in Syria via her website, “Syrian Human Rights Information Link”, in 2005.

When the uprisings began in March, a strict ban was imposed on international journalists and human rights activists. The outside world had very little access to information regarding the protests and oppression by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Zeitouneh, who lived in Damascus, began to report on the atrocities committed by the security forces on her website: the kidnapping, arrest, torture and killing of peaceful protestors. At great risk to her own safety, she has been giving interviews and writing articles to inform the outside world about Syria’s revolution. She is one of the few sources for the international media that want to document the brutality of Assad’s regime.

Zeitouneh’s activism has drawn the attention of the government and she was officially denounced as a “media spokesman for the terrorist campaign against Syria”. In fear of being arrested, tortured or killed, she went into hiding a few months ago, moving from place to place, avoiding the use of mobile phones and taking very strict security precautions. Nevertheless, she knows that she is a target and could be eventually found. Although her husband and her brother-in-law have been arrested, she still continues to give interviews to international media, telling the rest of the world about the terrible oppression endured under Assad’s regime.

In recognition of her tremendous courage, she recently received the Reach All Women in War’s fifth Anna Politkovskaya Award and the 2011 European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.


When his father’s 29-year rule came to an end, Bashar al-Assad was elected President of Syria in 2000. During his autocratic presidency, the regime and secret police have kidnapped, arrested, detained, tortured and killed any voices critical of the government.

In March, fuelled by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrian people went to the streets to protest against the regime’s corruption and calling for political and economic reform. When security forces responded to the peaceful, unarmed protests with killings, arrests and torture, the situation escalated and the revolution began.

Since the start of the uprisings, more than 60,000 people have been killed, the numbers rising every day. Protestors and activists are arbitrarily shot, or detained, tortured and eventually killed. No one is safe, with security forces even targeting women, children and the elderly.

The violent death of one young boy was particularly shocking: 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib was on his way to a protest in Deraa on April 29, 2011, when he was arrested by security forces in the nearby town of Saida. His body was returned to his family one month later, with terrible bruises, burns, a broken neck and severed genitals. He had obviously been tortured with electric shocks, whipped with cables, and finally shot to death.

The lack of independent national media and the government’s ban on international media and activists make it extremely difficult to document and report on human rights violations and developments in the country. Those who still try to get information out of Syria, such as Mazen Darwish, pay a very high price and risk their lives for talking to the media.

Despite all the violence and atrocities committed by the security forces, the Syrian people still continue to take to the streets, calling for an end to the regime and for a free and democratic country.


Due to the government’s ban on international media and human rights activists from the country, it was impossible for the outside world to get accounts of the revolution. Some researchers from Human Rights Watch, and in particular Razan Zeitouneh, were the few sources to report on the uprisings and document the violence of Assad’s regime toward Syrian civilians.

Zeitouneh’s courage is enormous: she lives in hiding under permanent fear of arrest and death for producing articles for international papers and giving interviews to media all around the world. Her sole purpose is to let the outside world know the reality of the regime’s brutalities and the fighting and terrible suffering of the Syrian people, who long for freedom and democracy.

While many of her fellow activists and friends are being arrested and killed, Zeitouneh knows she will not be safe anywhere as long as the regime stays in power. Only recently, one of her closest friends was tortured to death. His crime? He was one of the protestors trying to end violence by bringing water and flowers to the armed forces and chanting that they should not kill each other as they are brothers.

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  2. ussane

    Extreme suffering but also motivation to require her liberation…

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