Index condemns UK’s seizure of award winner’s passport

2016 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award winner Zaina Erhaim (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

2016 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award winner Zaina Erhaim (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

Index on Censorship is appalled by the decision of UK border officials to confiscate the passport of Syrian journalist, Zaina Erhaim. The Syria coordinator for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, Erhaim has been recognised by a number of organisations internationally for her work training citizen journalists to report on the conflict within Aleppo.

Index invited Erhaim, in her capacity as winner of this year’s Freedom of Expression Awards, to an event at Write on Kew Festival to speak about her experiences alongside veteran journalist Kate Adie.

When Erhaim arrived in the UK on Thursday 22 September for the event she was detained by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and questioned for an hour before UKBA confiscated her passport. Erhaim was told that the passport had been reported by the Syrian authorities as stolen and therefore UKBA was compelled to retain it and return it to the Syrian government.

Erhaim had her old passport, which remains valid but is effectively unusable because the pages are filled, and was able to enter the UK for the debate. Further travel may be impossible, however, as Erhaim no longer has a passport with which to apply for a new visa to enter Europe.

When Erhaim challenged this decision, she was told to seek consular advice from the Syrian government in Damascus.

“We are extremely disappointed by the treatment of Zaina by border officials. It seems quite astonishing that the UK would accede to a request from a government whom it has only this weekend accused of being complicit in war crimes – especially when it is clear that the Syrian government is using tools, such as passport rescindments, to harass those who oppose or expose its behaviour,” Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, said.

Index will be raising the matter with the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

If you would like to write a letter in support of Zaina Erhaim, address your correspondence to:

Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street

[email protected]

Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles Street

[email protected]

More about Zaina Erhaim

Women on the front line: Zaina Erhaim and Kate Adie on the challenges of war reporting

Zaina Erhaim: “I want to give this award to the Syrians who are being terrorised”

#IndexAwards2016: Zaina Erhaim trains Syrian women to report on the war