September 27, 2016

RSF condemns the UK’s seizure of Syrian journalist’s passport

Credit : AFP PHOTO / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the decision of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to seize the passport of RSF award-winning Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim, in response to a request from Syria’s Assad regime, which falsely reported the document as stolen.

Upon arrival at London Heathrow airport on 22 September, the UKBA detained Erhaim and questioned her for more than an hour, before confiscating her passport. The UKBA told Erhaim her passport had been reported as stolen and must be returned to the Syrian government.

Erhaim has since been able to leave the UK on her old passport, which remains valid, but as the pages are filled, she may be unable to travel further, leaving her at risk. Erhaim had travelled to the UK to speak at an event as part of the Write on Kew Festival on 24 September.

Erhaim told RSF: "It's sad enough that journalists are being targeted by the Assad regime inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, but to reach us even in the UK, where we are supposed to be protected and freedom of expression is guaranteed by law, is so frustrating. In this case, and in many other unreported ones, the UK acted like an arm of Assad, and it helps him to track us down and silence us".

“We are appalled that the UK authorities have allowed our system to be manipulated in this way. British law is meant to protect freedom of expression, not to be used to harass critical journalists at the urging of repressive regimes. We call on the Home Office to take immediate steps to assist Erhaim and issue a public statement in her support”, said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK Bureau Director.

Erhaim is the Syria project coordinator for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. She was awarded the prestigious Reporters Without Borders Prize in 2015, as well as the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism in 2015, for her work in defence of press freedom.

The United Kingdom is ranked 38th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.