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26 July 2023

Defamation campaign against Syrian woman human rights defender Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji

Front Line Defenders stands in solidarity with Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji, and calls on the de facto authorities in Idlib to put an end to the targeting of the Syrian woman human rights defender.

Despite the efforts of human rights organisations, women human rights defenders in Syria continue to face many forms of restrictions and threats. In this context, Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji, a woman human rights defender and CEO of the feminist organisation Equity and Empowerment, has recently been targeted by a malicious online defamation campaign because of her work on women’s rights and democracy in Syria. On 4 July 2023, Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji received death threats from unknown individuals who disagreed with her advocacy efforts for “equality and democracy,” asserting that such work went against the teachings of Islam. Subsequently, the Facebook page of her organisation Equity and Empowerment was overwhelmed with hateful comments and threats, further escalating the distressing situation.

Those behind the defamation campaign are believed to be Jihadists operating in Idlib, northwestern Syria, where the woman human rights defender conducts her human rights work. The woman human rights defender has previously reported that these radical groups were responsible for similar threats, indicating a pattern of persecution and harassment against her and other human rights defenders in the area.

The attacks have also manifested in offline harm. On 18 July 2023, a family member of the woman human rights defender was insulted by a stranger who threatened them saying that if Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji does not stop her work, one of her family members will be killed. The defamatory narrative against Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji aims at inciting further hatred and violence against her, all in an effort to undermine her human rights work.

On 21 July 2023, an imam in the countryside outside of Idlib gave a sermon which mentioned the woman human rights defender Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji and the organisation Equity and Empowerment. The sermon called for the organisation to be closed, incorrectly mentioning its links to western states as a means of discrediting its work.

On 2 March 2020, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief declared that they “firmly reject any claim that religious beliefs can be invoked as a legitimate ‘justification’ for violence or discrimination against women or girls.”

The campaign has taken place over various online platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, using fake and verified accounts to post derogatory fake images of the human rights defender along with hateful captions. In addition to this, she has been subjected to death threats, harassment, and incitements against her and her family, along with doxing, deep fakes, threats of rape and sexual slurs.

Front Line Defenders believes that the defamation campaign is directly related to Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji’s work in defence of human rights, in particular her work towards the promotion of women’s rights in Syria. Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the defamation campaign against the woman human rights defender Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji. It calls on the de facto authorities in Idlib to put an end to the targeting of the woman human rights defender, including the defamation campaign, and demands that Hiba Ezzideen Al-Hajji’s safety and well-being be protected as well as that of all women human rights defenders facing similar threats and attacks in the country.