Razan Zeitune e il piccolo Ghiyath Matar

Razan Zaitune(The Daily Star, 6 dicembre) Human Rights lawyer Razan Zeitouneh interrupted our Skype interview from an unknown location inside Syria abruptly: “Sorry, I have to move for security reasons. I will be in another place soon.”

The 34-year-old has spent eight months on the run from security forces, moving locations sometimes more than once a day. Her husband, Wael Hamada, was detained and tortured, held in an unknown location for almost three months. Dozens of her close friends and associates have been arrested, tortured and killed. But despite the risks, Zeitouneh vows she will never leave Syria. “Not ever,” she said.

Zeitouneh will formally accept her award for the European Parliament Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought at Parliament’s formal session in Strasbourg on Dec. 14 along with renowned Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who became an icon for the Syrian revolution after he was found bleeding by a Damascus road, his hands broken, beaten by Syrian security for his illustrations that criticized of the Syrian regime.

But Zeitouneh will not be risking a personal appearance. Instead, fellow human rights worker and senior Syrian National Council member and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights, Radwan Ziadeh, will accept the award on her behalf in Washington.

She will dedicate the award to 33-week-old baby Ghiyath Matar, whose human rights activist father, also Ghiyath Matar was killed under torture before he was born, in August, galvanizing the protest movement and attracting the condemnation of world leaders.

“This is an excellent [opportunity], not just for Razan, but for all the Syrian people, to honor her work in monitoring and documenting human rights abuses in Syria,” Ziadeh said on the eve of the U.N. special commission into human rights in Geneva.

“The son, Ghiyath Matar, will grow up in a new Syria.”

Zeitouneh describes baby Ghiyath as a “wonderful baby boy” – his mother was once arrested before he was born and is now in hiding so the young Ghiyath has already experienced the heat of persecution.

Recently, baby Ghiyath came under threat again when security forces threatened to take him and the 5-month-old daughter of his father’s fellow activist in hiding, Osama Nassar, hostage as a means of roping in her dissident father.

Osama Nassar’s wife, Maimouna reported intelligence services came to her home two weeks ago, threatening to take her daughter, Emar, if her husband did not hand himself in.

“They threatened to arrest their baby to get to Osama,” says Zeitouneh, adding Ghiyath has been similarly threatened. She dreams that “one day we will be able to establish an award in the name of his father.”

Of her speech, she said: “I want to tell baby Ghiyath how sorry we are because we couldn’t protect his father and many other fathers from being killed.

“[I want to tell him] we still believe in what his father believed in, in love and peace to achieve our goals in freedom and dignity.”

With the Syrian uprising now in its eighth month, reports of increased army defections, armed guerilla attacks and sectarian violence, especially in Homs, are on the rise.

Increased attacks by the Free Syrian Army and a reported pact with the group and the Syrian National Council, of which Zeitouneh is a member, have stoked fears that the opposition is becoming increasingly militarized. The U.N Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay voiced what for many had been the worst case scenario last week, labeling the conflict “civil war.”

A fierce advocate of non-violence, and having criticized the danger of “fabrications” on the part of activists and Syrian authorities alike, Zeitouneh says it is important to talk about the realities on the ground to contain the violence and keep the revolution on the right path, admitting sectarian violence in Homs, but claiming it is limited to “individual cases.”

“We’ve said from the beginning that longer time of violence against people by the regime would lead to more complications including the possibilities of civil conflict and militarization of the revolution,” she said.

“The most important thing … is not to be afraid or shy to talk about it. It’s normal, more than normal, after eight months of violence [and] after four decades of division between people, that they fear … each other.

“We should ensure always, as activists and as opposition [against] any [violent] actions … which not only damage our revolution but also the future of the new Syria,” she said, adding the cost of which had already been more than 5,000 lives.

She said activists on the ground had a role to play in countering sectarian sentiments, as did the opposition bodies and the international community more broadly.

“People … resort to violence because they feel themselves alone … with the whole world watching. The other level of work should be by activists on the ground, those who can really impact people directly … I believe in my people and in their ability to avoid the deadly actions of hate and revenge.”

Responding to rumors of infighting and a perceived inertia by the SNC, Zeitouneh said the council was “getting better,” insisting the majority of Syrian people view the body as the only viable representatives.

“[I] don’t think they will accept anybody else to represent their revolution,” she said.

“The problem is the Arab world and international community asks the whole opposition to be united which is impossible,” she said, referring to calls by the Arab League to unite opposition groups as a precursor to dialogue. “It’s not logical to ask all of them to be united in one council.

“The differences inside the SNC can be solved, but it doesn’t need more problems by imposing other parties from outside of the SNC which don’t agree on its general political lines.”