The British government has seized the passport of Zaina Erhaim, a noted Syrian activist and award-winning war journalist. Erhaim is also an outspoken critic of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. According to Erhaim’s account of what unfolded, upon her return to Heathrow airport on Friday, she was detained for questioning and informed by officials that the Syrian government said that the passport she was carrying had been reported stolen. Erhaim said she was told British authorities would return the passport to the Syrian government, a move that severely prohibits her ability to travel and do her work.
Erhaim sees the confiscation as a form of intimidation by a regime she’s been harshly critical of. Speaking to The Observer, Erhaim said, “I expect to be harassed inside my country. I know that if I went home I would be killed, but now I find that Assad’s arm can even reach to the U.K. This is a dictator pursuing a journalist.”
Erhaim was finishing a degree in international journalism in London when civil war broke out in Syria in 2011. She was reporting for the BBC at the time, but later joined The Institute for War & Peace Reporting as the organization’s Syria coordinator. The job took her back to her homeland of Syria as scores of refugees fled the war-torn nation. As the situation in Syria continued to deteriorate, the need for her journalistic skills heightened. Erhaim trained both men and women from her community, teaching them the ins and outs of skills like feature writing and video production. “Many of the male trainees were already citizen journalists, but they wanted to get professional skills,” Erhaim told Women in the World in 2015 profile. “But most of the women were housewives, some didn’t even finish high school, so oftentimes, we started from zero.” Her work culminated last year when she was presented with the 2015 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, an honor given jointly by Reporters Without Borders, Agence France-Press and the Global Media Forum.
Last October, Erhaim appeared at Cadogan Hall at the Women in the World London Summit. In a discussion that foreshadowed the confiscation of her passport, she told the audience that her passport was expiring soon. Erhaim, who was pregnant at the time, said, “My passport runs out soon so I will be stateless. So will my baby.” She was able to obtain a new passport five months ago, but that is what has been taken away. Erhaim is based in Turkey and has another passport that she could potentially use to travel outside of the U.K., but she said it has no pages left for visa stamps, so it might prove invalid. She hails from Aleppo, as does her husband, Mahmoud Rashwani, who previously spent time detained and tortured in one of Assad’s prisons.
Read the full story at The Guardian.