Amnesty International has hailed the award of a prestigious human rights prize to a Syrian activist who was forced into hiding after defying the authorities' crackdown on dissent.
Razan Zaitouneh, 34, won the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award, which is given to a woman human rights defender standing up for victims in a conflict zone.
"Razan Zaitouneh’s bravery and commitment to human rights have been highlighted during the current crisis in Syria,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa of Amnesty International.
"We hope this award can shine a light on the brutal abuses taking place in Syria, particularly in China and Russia - countries who this week betrayed Syrians by blocking a UN resolution on the crisis."
Razan Zaitouneh, a lawyer and journalist, won the award for her extraordinary contribution to human rights over the past decade, and particularly for her role in the anti-government movement in Syria since protests began in March this year.
She has monitored and documented the human rights situation in the country for the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network responsible for planning and organizing peaceful protests.
“In spite of relentless repression, Razan Zaitouneh has been defying a strict media blackout imposed by the Syrian authorities in their attempt to prevent the full horror of what is happening in the country to reach the outside world,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
These activities have come at a steep personal price. Razan and her husband Wa’el Hammada were forced into hiding in April.
Wa’el Hammada was arrested by members of the Air Force Intelligence on 30 April and held incommunicado until 12 July before being transferred to Damascus Central Prison (‘Adra prison).
Amnesty International has received information that he was kept in solitary confinement, tortured and otherwise ill-treated during his detention. He was released on bail on 1 August and is currently awaiting trial on a host of trumped up charges.
Razan Zaitouneh is still in hiding. She told Amnesty International after winning the award: “Living in suspense of what may happen next is not easy. But we all know the price I’m paying is modest in comparison to others. Some paid with their lives and others suffered imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment.
“The most beautiful part of the Syrian revolution is the high spirits of the Syrian people, who turned the protests into carnivals of song, dancing and chants of freedom, despite the bullets, arrests and tanks. This determination and hope can only motivate us to continue our struggle for freedom,” she said.
Razan Zaitouneh’s award comes two days after Russia and China blocked a binding UN resolution that condemned Syria's crackdown on protesters and left open the possibility of sanctions.
"This is evidence that unfortunately governments are only concerned about their own interests," Razan Zaitouneh told Amnesty International.
"I ask the Russian government to rethink their alliance with the Syrian regime as they are losing the trust of the Syrian people."
Razan Zaitouneh has been working in human rights since 2001. Prior to the outbreak of popular protests, she documented human rights violations and provided legal support to the families of political prisoners. She has been banned from travel outside Syria since 2003.
Since mid-March, the Syrian authorities have sought to suppress pro-reform protests by using excessive force under the pretext that the government is under attack by armed gangs.
More than 2,300 people are believed to have died in connection with the protests, many of whom are believed to have been shot by security forces. Thousands of others have been arrested, held incommunicado and some have reportedly been tortured.
Razan Zaitouneh's award is in memory of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in 2006 after making her name reporting on the conflict in Chechnya. No one has been brought to justice for her murder. The award has been set up by the organization RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War) - rawinwar.org.