Index kicks off US college tour


Documentary maker and journalist Safa Al Ahmad (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Index on Censorship will begin a set of college events across the USA on 21 October 2019 as part of its Free Speech Is For Me programme.

The tour will include discussions with special guests such as Safa Al-Ahmad, a Saudi Arabian journalist and filmmaker who has directed documentaries focusing on uprisings in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and a former winner of the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Journalism.

The first stop will be at Columbia University, New York, on 21 October where Al-Ahmad will discuss impunity and the silencing of dissent in Saudi Arabia with Agnès Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Zaina Erhaim (Sean Gallagher / Index on Censorship)

On 22 October Al-Ahmad will be in conversation with Zaina Erhaim, the Syrian journalist who returned to Syria after war broke out to help train female citizen journalists and a former winner of the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Journalism, about local journalists on the front lines of the wars in Syria and Yemen at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 

And then on 23 October Al-Ahmad will be interviewed by University of Delaware professor emeritus Ralph Begleiter on what it’s like to travel through a war zone in Yemen, the challenges of being a female journalist in the Middle East and what impact the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi has had on journalists in Saudi Arabia.

The campus tour will take place during Free Speech Week, a national event to promote free speech and freedom of the press in the USA. Rachael Jolley, editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship, said: “This campus tour is an important part of the work that Index is doing in the USA to talk with students about why free speech is vital for all of us, and has always been at the heart of the ways laws and attitudes are changed. We want to hear what lots of people have to say.”   

In another part of the Free Speech Is For Me programme, twelve applicants will receive one-on-one support from leading free speech experts, as well as media, communications and public speaking training. Participants will gain a clearer understanding of the challenges of censorship around the world and the tools to overcome them, as well as how to best advocate for and use free speech principles. 

“‘Free speech has become a dirty word in the last few years,” Jodie Ginsberg, Index on Censorship’s chief executive, said. “Free Speech Is For Me aims to show how freedom of expression furthers democracy and individual liberty and benefit everyone. If we allow free speech protections to be weakened, we lose our greatest tool in advocating for change.”

You can find more information about the campus tour and how to attend on the Index on Censorship events page. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1571413290506-656617e0-84ba-7″ taxonomies=”8935″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Circle x Eco-Age Difficult Conversations: Women in Conflict (Eco-Age, 29 August 2019)

In today’s focus, award winning Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim and The Circle’s Anna Renfrew shine a spotlight on the threats and challenges facing women reporting from the front line of conflict zones.

Journalists in conflict zones are exposed to violence, threats and kidnapping. They are at the front line, reporting stories of global importance from some of the most dangerous places in the world. Local female journalists are the most vulnerable, as they often cannot leave the scene and have to stay to live with the consequences of violence. Read the article in full. 

Reporting on the War in Syria as an Unveiled Woman (Zora, 6 August 2019)

Five long, shapeless tops; a pile of loose-fitting, dark-colored jeans; a knee-length coat; and a video camera. Those were the contents of my wardrobe for more than two years, when I lived in and reported on the rebel-held area of Aleppo, known as eastern Aleppo city. Few things changed between the seasons, as we had to dress conservatively year-round. Read the article in full.

Groups condemn the confiscation of Syrian journalist’s passport by UK officials


We condemn the decision of UK border officials to confiscate the passport of Syrian journalist, Zaina Erhaim, at the request of Syrian authorities. We urge the British government to protect the freedom of the press by refusing to let foreign governments use manipulation of the passport system to punish journalists.

The Syria coordinator for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Ms Erhaim has been recognised by a number of organisations internationally – including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in 2015 – for her work training citizen journalists to report on the conflict within Aleppo.

Ms Erhaim was invited to the UK in her capacity as winner of this year’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards for journalism to speak about her experiences alongside veteran journalist Kate Adie.

When Ms 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.

Ms 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 Ms Erhaim no longer has a passport with which to apply for a new visa to enter Europe.

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

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

Anthony Borden, IWPR executive director and managing director, said: “Zaina Ehraim is internationally recognized as one of the most courageous and professional independent voices from Syria – working at great personal risk to support media and civic society inside the country to inform the world about this terrible conflict and keep hope alive for some kind of positive future.”

“The idea that the British government – which has directly supported our work in Syria – should accede to the demands of the Syrian authorities to seize her passport is profoundly offensive to any democratic thinking, directly undermines the effort to build civic options inside Syria, and sends precisely the wrong message to the criminal regime in Damascus,” he added.

Four organisations – the Council for Arab-British Understanding, Index on Censorship, IWPR, and RSF – have raised the matter with the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“We are appalled that the UK authorities have allowed our system to be manipulated in this way. British law is meant to protect freedom of expression, not to be used to harass critical journalists at the urging of repressive regimes. We call on the Home Office to take immediate steps to assist Erhaim and issue a public statement in her support,” said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK Bureau Director.

Chris Doyle, Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding said: “The precedent set by seizing Erhaim’s passport and the message it sends to oppressive governments around the world is alarming. In theory, any vicious regime could demand the return of a passport from any government merely by fraudulently claiming that the passport is stolen.”

The Frontline Club is also supporting a campaign to raise awareness of the issue.

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



Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

King Charles Street



[email protected]


More about Zaina Erhaim

Press contact: Jodie Ginsberg, [email protected]