We write to you as former winners of the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for journalism – and as exiles from our homes. All three of us have been forced into exile because of our work as journalists: in Saudi Arabia, Syria and the Maldives respectively. All three of us in the past three years.
No one wants to be forced to leave their place of birth. We reported on war, corruption and cover-ups in the countries in which we were raised and which we love – and our punishment has been expulsion and persecution. We write to you, separated from our families, and from homes that are not homes.
We have all received death threats. Repeatedly.
Zaina – who survived the Syrian regime’s crackdown on the uprising then the war, finally had to leave after she became a target for militias and troops. Safa, who spent three years covertly filming a mass uprising in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, now moves from country to country. Zaheena, editor of an online newspaper, fled the Maldives after a police raid on her office following a long period of harassment in which she received death threats and a colleague was disappeared.
None of us consider ourselves brave or courageous. We are not reckless. We are women who simply want to write and broadcast freely about what is happening in the world. We continue to do this, even as exiles*.
But no one should have to live like this simply for being a journalist.
We need to speak out on media freedom. We need to support those speaking out. To continue to do this effectively in the challenging times ahead, Index needs your help.
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Safa Al Ahmad, Zaina Erhaim, Zaheena Rasheed
*Zaina works for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Zaheena for Al Jazeera, and Safa continues to work as a freelance journalist.