Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

IWPR's Syria Coordinator Wins Landmark Freedom of Speech Prize

Writer and mentor has been instrumental in helping Syrians tell their stories.
By IWPR
  • Zaina Erhaim. (Photo: Hayyan Alyousouf)
    Zaina Erhaim. (Photo: Hayyan Alyousouf)

IWPR Syria project coordinator Zaina Erhaim has been awarded the 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for journalism.

Erhaim, 30, returned to the war-torn Syria in 2013. Based in Aleppo, she has since trained about 100 citizen reporters, around a third of them women, who are now among the very few able to provide eyewitness accounts of events on the ground.

Accepting the award at a gala ceremony in London on April 13, she dedicated it to “the journalists and citizen journalists still taking this dangerous, difficult path, sacrificing everything, playing hide and seek with death to get the stories of the Syrian people out”.

In 2015 Erhaim filmed a ground-breaking documentary, Syria’s Rebellious Women, telling the stories of young activists helping their country in the midst of conflict.

At a screening the night before the awards ceremony at London’s Frontline Club, Erhaim told the audience that she wanted to ensure these women’s work was remembered.

 “The main reason I made the films is because I am Syrian, and I’m a woman,” she said. “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.”

Last year Erhaim won another landmark prize, the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism.

Zaina also writes regularly for The Economist and has contributed to the Guardian and Arabic-language media like Orient TV, Al-Hayat and Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

Born in Idlib and educated in Damascus, Erhaim was finishing a degree in international journalism in London just as unrest began in Syria in 2011. She spent two years as a broadcast journalist with the BBC before joining IWPR and returning to northern Syria.

IWPR has worked in Syria since 2007, supporting journalists, civil society groups, and youth and female activists. Its Damascus Bureau platform is a space for news, comment and reportage written by Syrians. Since February 2015, the Women’s Blog has carried pieces by new writers with no background in professional journalism, talking about the hardship of daily life and the horrors of war. Erhaim has been instrumental in bringing these stories out.

Another IWPR contributor, Azerbaijani journalist Idrak Abbasov, won the 2012 Index On Censorship prize for journalism.

Abbasov was recognised for his investigative reports on corruption and violence in Azerbaijan.

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