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Syrian Activist In Hiding: 'If We Didn't Believe We Will Win, We Couldn't Bear All This'

Syrian activist Razan Zeitouneh
Syrian activist Razan Zeitouneh
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 2,900 people in the seven-month old crackdown on peaceful democracy protesters, according to the latest figures from the United Nations.

Those statistics were compiled with the help of activists like Razan Zeitouneh, 34, who for months has defied the government-imposed media blackout to tell the outside world of the mounting brutality.

Zeitouneh, a trained human rights lawyer, also runs a website, Syrian Human Rights Information Link (SHRIL), which has become one of the few sources of information on killings, arrests, and human rights violations by the regime.

On October 6, she received the Anna Politkovskaya Award from the British rights Group RAW in War (Reach All Women In War) for "her reporting on the internet and to foreign media daily accounts of the atrocities against civilians in Syria." She is also nominated as part of a group of 5 Arab Spring activists for the European Parliament's 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

From hiding, she spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash about the situation in her country, the unbreakable will of the protesters, and how she thinks the international community should be responding.

RFE/RL: First, what are the latest developments in Syria?

Razan Zeitouneh:
"Today was very a very sad day in Syria. Quite a prominent opponent Kurdish leader was assassinated today, Mashaal Tammo [a spokesman for the Kurdish Future Party and a member of the newly formed Syria National Council]. It happened in Al-Qamishli ,where the Kurdish minority exists. [Tammo] was in detention for 3-1/2 years [and] got released recently. The revolution had started when he was released. He was arrested for his political activities. The day after his release he was in the street, among the protesters, calling for the end to the regime and for freedom. His son also was injured [today]. He's still in hospital in very critical condition. Another female activist was injured also. I think with this assassination, a new level of the brutality has started today."

RFE/RL: Can you tell me more about the situation in the country as a whole right now?

"The situation is getting more violent every day. Now the average number of people killed by the security [forces] and army is about 20 daily. The army still surrounds many cities and villages, every day new areas and new cities are raided by the security [forces] and the army. Hundreds of people get arrested daily, the cases of [people] getting killed under torture is increasing, day after day. Kidnapping people from the street and killing them is also increasing, especially in the city of Homs. In spite of all of that, the protests are still going on. Every day there is a protest [somewhere] in the country, maybe [some places] less than others, because it depends on the security condition and how [much] pressure there is on an area."

RFE/RL: What do you think of the international community's response to the violence in Syria?

"As of this morning, I [thought] the international community wasn't dealing seriously [with] all this violence against the Syrian people. It's really ridiculous that seven months has passed and the [UN] Security Council couldn't [approve] a condemnation resolution against the Syrian regime. I think there is much to be done by the international community still."

RFE/RL: Why do you think Russia and China vetoed the UN resolution?

Zeitouneh: "For sure, Russia and China don't care about the principles of freedom and democracy in their countries, so they will not care about it in other countries. Their positions come from their interests and relations with the Western countries and with their interests with the Syrian regime. But I think they are making a big mistake. Russian and China should know that the regime will end sooner or later but [the] Syrian people will stay forever, so they shouldn't gain [favor with] the regime [at the expense] of the people. If they really care about their interests, they should know that their interests in the future [are] with the Syrian people, not the regime, which will be toppled sooner or later."

RFE/RL: What is one thing the international community should do at this point?

"There will never be [just] one thing the international community should do. The Syrian people need to be protected. At the same time, we say that we don't want this revolution to become armed, we want to remain peaceful. [Having] alternative solutions will help this revolution to remain peaceful. There should be a road map in cooperation between the international community and the Syrian opposition to [find] new alternatives and solutions to protect the Syrian people and help to end this regime. This could be in several steps, it could be long-term, but there should be something."

RFE/RL: What do you see as Iran's role in the crackdown?

"I'm not a politician, actually, [so] I cannot give political analysis. But we know that Syria [has received] technical help from Iran, for example, to monitor communications and Internet and so on."

RFE/RL: What is your reaction to winning an award in the name of slain Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya?

"I think this award is like an award for the Syrian people and their revolution. It was given to me only as one [citizen] of the whole country that has been fighting peacefully for freedom and democracy for seven months. It means a lot to us, especially because it comes in the name of a symbol like Anna, a symbol of truth and human rights. It means a lot to us because it comes in the name of a Russian journalist, at a time when the Russian government is still supporting our regime against our people."

RFE/RL: Why did you go into hiding, and do you feel physically safe?

Zeitouneh: "Like all other activists who became wanted by the authority, the regime started to arrest every activist who talked to the media, who tried to spread the word, who is working with the protesters in the street. So we had no choice --[either] get arrested or hide and continue what we are doing. For sure nobody feels safe these days in Syria, even in hiding. Others [live with the] possibility of being arrested at any moment, and after today, the assassination of Mashaal Tammo, and also another prominent opponent who was beaten today very harshly in the street -- he is Mr. Riad Seif, and he was taken to the hospital. It's clear that this is a new strategy by the regime to frighten the activists and the opponents by hurting them physically."

RFE/RL: Do you think the protesters will eventually win and President Bashar al-Assad will be ousted?

Zeitouneh: "There is no doubt that the protesters and our revolution will eventually win. If we don't believe that we will win, we couldn't continue under all this violence by the regime. We couldn't bear all these crimes against our people. I'm sure that every single Syrian believes that the revolution will win in the end."

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