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Syrian Activist Honored In Anna Politkovskaya's Name On Eve Of Murder Anniversary


Syrian activist Razan Zeitouneh

Syrian activist Razan Zeitouneh

A Syrian human rights activist who has risked her life to report to the outside world on atrocities committed under the government's continuing crackdown on protesters has been honored in the name of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
London-based rights NGO Reach All Women in War (RAW in War) on October 6 bestowed its annual Anna Politikovskaya award on Razan Zeitouneh on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the reporter's murder.
No award ceremony was held, as Zeitouneh is currently in hiding.
Mariana Katzarova founded RAW in War in 2006 after working as a researcher on Russia and Chechnya for Amnesty International. She told RFE/RL that the best way to honor Politkovskaya, who was gunned down after reporting on Russian authorities' human rights abuses in Chechnya during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, is to honor other women who work in the same spirit.
"We decided that the best way to support women human rights defenders [and] women journalists and activists, not only in Russia and Chechnya, but everywhere in the world -- in any conflict [and] in any situation of violence -- is to establish an award that would continue what Anna stood for: telling the truth about human rights violations," Katzarova said.
Reporting On Syrian Brutality
Katzarova said the 34-year-old Zeitouneh, who has risked her life in breaking through the government's media blackout to report on the brutal crackdown in Syria reminds her strongly of Politkovskaya.
"When the violence against civilians by the army and security forces in Syria began [in March], [Zeitouneh] turned into a journalist. She became one of the essential voices coming out of Syria about the daily torture and killing of peaceful protesters in the country," Katzarova said.
Trained as a human rights lawyer, Zeitouneh in 2005 founded the website Syrian Human Rights Information Link (SHRIL). Written in Arabic and English, it has served as one of the few sources of information on killings, arrests, and human rights violations committed during the continuing, six-month-old assault on anti-government protesters.
The United Nations human rights office said that the death toll from the crackdown under President Bashar al-Assad has risen to more than 2,900, a figure that does not include those who have disappeared or remain unaccounted for.
Zeitouneh was branded a foreign agent on Syrian state television after reporting to outside media in March of an attack by security forces on a mosque in the southern city of Daraa. She soon went into hiding, but has continued to document the violence against protesters and communicate the information to international media and rights groups.
Speaking in August via telephone on the syndicated U.S. news program "Democracy Now!," Zeitouneh said the world was failing to respond appropriately to the tragedy in Syria.
"I cannot believe it that after all this time, after more than four months, international society is still not dealing seriously with the situation in Syria -- in spite of what we all sacrifice to make the information reach [and] to make the world know what is going on [in Syria]," Zeitouneh said.
On October 5, Russia and China vetoed an already watered down UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown.

Zeitouneh has also been nominated as part of a group of 5 Arab Spring activists for the European Parliament’s 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, an honor named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Unsolved Murder
Past recipients of RAW in War's Anna Politkovskaya award include organizers of Iran's One Million Signatures Campaign, which protests laws discriminatory toward women; Afghan activist and former politician Malalai Joya; and Natalia Estemirova, who was given the inaugural award in 2007.
Estemirova, a human rights activist and friend of Politkovskaya, was assassinated in 2009 after her own reporting on torture, disappearances, and murders in Chechnya.
The award's recipients are selected by a group of more than 100 international political and cultural figures, including former Czech President Vaclav Havel, South African activist and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi.
Meanwhile, the specter of Politkovskaya's unsolved murder remains, five years after she was assassinated in her Moscow apartment building.
After a lengthy investigation, Russia last month charged a former senior police officer, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, with helping to organize the murder.
Supporters and rights activists, however, say that authorities are far from -- or unwilling -- to identify those who ordered her killing, which has become an international symbol of Russia's troubling human rights record.
Some have accused high-ranking government officials, including then President Putin, of sanctioning Politkovskaya's assassination.
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