Zaina Erhaim: “No one is left in Aleppo”

The Index-award winning journalist Zaina Erhaim was due to travel to the USA this month along with three other Syrian women to screen their documentary series, Syria’s Rebellious Women

09 Mar 2017

The 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Journalism Fellow Zaina Erhaim (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

The Index Award-winning journalist Zaina Erhaim was due to travel to the USA this month along with three other Syrian women to screen their documentary series, Syria’s Rebellious Women. But President Donald Trump’s executive order on the travel ban for seven majority-Muslim countries, including Syria, saw the US State Department-funded tour cancelled.

Syria’s Rebellious Women, a documentary filmed by Erhaim in 2015, tells the stories of women who are doing all they can to help her country survive during this horrific time. Explaining how the film came about, she told Index: “I put three of the five profiles online because the women filmed agreed on putting them. I met them while living inside Syria.”

Speaking about Khaled Issa, who featured in Syria’s Rebellious Women before he died from injuries sustained from a blast that targeted his home in Aleppo, Erhaim said: “Sadly it’s not a unique incident, but not all the media activists are ‘lucky’ enough to get the media attention and concern that Khaled did.”

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The cancellation of the US tour is the second time within six months that Erhaim had been made to feel completely unwelcome by the authorities of a Western country. In September 2016, when entering the UK on invitation of Index on Censorship to speak about her experiences alongside veteran journalist Kate Adie, the journalist’s Syrian passport was confiscated at the request of the Syrian government.

In December 2016, the last civilians of Aleppo were evacuated, including Erhaim’s husband Mahmoud Rashwani, who is now in Edlib. “No one is left in Aleppo,” Erhaim explained. “For activists, living in an Assad-controlled area means being arrested or killed. Many families of the activists were arrested for staying.”

In a recent column for The Guardian, Erhaim described how residents of Aleppo often burn their photos and other important possessions as they left Aleppo to prevent soldiers from getting their hands on them. She told Index that people also burned their cars and other useful possessions so that the militias can’t use them.

The 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Journalism Fellow Erhaim was named one of Reuters’ Unsung Heroes of 2016. She said that while it’s great to be remembered among “actual heroes”, she doesn’t feel that she did enough to be included with them.

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