Zaina Erhaim: “No one is left in Aleppo”


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.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row equal_height=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1488992779654{background-color: #dd3333 !important;}” el_class=”text_white”][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Protect Media Freedom” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:28|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]

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We monitor threats to press freedom, produce an award-winning magazine and publish work by censored writers.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″ css=”.vc_custom_1488991756172{background-image: url( !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]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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Zaina Erhaim: Syria’s Rebellious Women


A series of short documentaries directed by 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards finalist Zaina Erhaim were screened at the Frontline Club in London last night.

Syria’s Rebellious Women was filmed by the Syrian journalist over an 18-month period to offer a rare insight into the difficulties faced by women living and working in rebel-held parts of Syria.

The films, which show a side of Syria rarely seen in the media, tell the individual stories of heroic women who continue to document war, provide medical services and deliver supplies to civilians despite disapproval from their families and the male-dominated society.

Erhaim told the audience that she decided to make the films after failing to find anything about Syrian women throughout history during her own research, and wanting to ensure the work of these women was remembered.

She said: “The main reason I made the films is because I am Syrian, and I’m a woman. I tried to do some research six years ago about Syrian women who participated in Syrian history and I couldn’t find anything.

“So I felt like we had to capture this work that the women are doing because in the future the men are going to be writing the history and these heroines are going to be forgotten.”

As a female journalist Erhaim faced many struggles when making the films, including being forbidden from filming in certain locations, just for being female; meaning she had to teach a male friend to use a camera in order to film scenes for her. Her friend was then hit by a missile after helping her.

She said: “Sometimes you need a hand and there are plenty of people willing to do that, free of charge; even if they are sacrificing their lives for you.”

Erhaim has spent the last two years training hundreds of citizen journalists, many of them women. She is also the Syria project coordinator for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an international organisation that supports journalists in countries undergoing conflict, crisis, or transition, who co-presented the event with Index and the Frontline Club.

When asked if she was optimistic about Syria’s future she replied: “No, I’m not. I think I’m being realistic; I don’t see any change happening, at least for better. Not for women, not for men, not for Syrians.”

12 April: Zaina Erhaim on Syria’s Rebellious Women


Join us for a film screening and discussion at the Frontline Club with Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim, co-presented with Index on Censorship and IWPR.

This event will feature screenings of Zaina‘s short films from the series Syria’s Rebellious Women, as well as a Q&A with Zaina who is in London as one of the finalists in the Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards 2016.

Living and working in Aleppo, Syria, Erhaim directed the film series Syria’s Rebellious Women over a period of 18 months to offer a rare insight into the challenges facing women living and working in rebel-held parts of Syria.

Revealing a side of Syria that is often absent from the news, the films tell the individual stories of a diverse group of strong, resilient women. As well as facing the constant threat of bombing, the women must battle the conservative traditions of a male-dominated society and tackle restrictions on their movements, dress and behaviour. Despite disapproval from their families, the women continue undeterred along the paths they have chosen – documenting war, delivering supplies to civilians, and providing medical services.

Erhaim currently lives and works in Aleppo, Syria. Over the last two years, she has trained over 100 citizen reporters from inside Syria, approximately a third of them women, in print and TV journalism. Erhaim is also the Syria project coordinator for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an international organisation that support journalists in countries undergoing conflict, crisis, or transition. Many of Erhaim’s students, from all walks of life, have been published in major international news outlets.

When: Tuesday 12 April 2016, 7:00 PM
Where: The Frontline Club (map)
Tickets: Standard – £12.50, Concession – £10.00. Book here.