WHRD Faces malicious threats and online attacks
On 27th July 2023, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) reported that woman human rights defender Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji and the staff of the Equity & Empowerment Organisation (E & E) had been subjected to death threats and a fierce defamation campaign on social media. According to GCHR, these attacks are a direct retaliation against Al-Hajji and E & E’s peaceful and legitimate human rights work, in particular their defence of women’s rights in Syria. As Executive Director of E & E, Al-Hajii has worked diligently with international mechanisms, including those of the United Nations system, in order to empower women in Syria, monitor the grave violations to which they are exposed, and work to stop them.
GCHR reports that the campaign against her began on 4th July 2023 with anonymous Facebook pages targeting her personally with obscene language because of her call to end discrimination against women.
On 11th July 2023, the campaign expanded to Telegram, where anonymous accounts have been used in addition to accounts on Facebook to publish explicit and fabricated pictures of her in order to defame her. On 14th July 2023, E & E announced on its Facebook page that it was organising a training course for girls to teach them martial arts, after which the comments field was filled with offensive words against Al-Hajji.
Following a complaint to Facebook, these offending pages were shut down, albeit several days after the complaints were made. However, the Telegram page is still active and publishing false accusations about her.
On 16th July 2023, Al-Hajji was targeted via WhatsApp.
On 18th July 2023, the same Telegram account, along with other anonymous Facebook accounts, re-posted explicit and false photos of her in order to defame her and her peaceful work in the field of human rights.
On 21st July 2023, the imam of a mosque in the countryside of Idlib Governorate incited action against Al-Hajji and her organisation, E & E, in front of the worshipers, who numbered more than two hundred. The sermon was widely published on WhatsApp, which puts her life and the lives of her work team in imminent danger.
In another incident touching on women’s rights, on 18th July 2023, Human Rights Watch issued a report on male guardianship laws which prevent women from moving freely in their own country or travelling abroad without the permission of a male guardian. The report criticised Syria where, in some parts of the country under the control of some armed groups, women are required to be accompanied by a mahram (husband or other close male relative).
In separate developments, on 14th May 2023, GCHR reported that prominent human rights defender and executive director of the Syrian Centre for Democracy and Civil Rights, Jdea Abdullah Nawfal, had been subjected to a vicious attack. It was reported that on 3rd May 2023, Nawfal was brutally attacked in the heart of the city of Al-Suwayda by an unknown person, which resulted in injuries and fractures throughout his body, including a deep wound to his head. He was taken to the hospital for treatment, where he was discharged after several hours. A report of the incident was filed at the city police station. His health is currently stable.
On 18th May 2023, Human Rights Watch reported that the UAE was planning to welcome Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to COP28, while civil society and human rights defenders will be left out in the cold. If Assad attends, it would be his first appearance at a global conference since before the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011. Human Rights Watch stated that this invitation is but one example of many Arab countries’ rush to normalise relations with Assad’s government without demanding accountability for the grave human rights abuses perpetrated since the outbreak of the war in Syria.