On July 18 Razan Ghazzawi, a Syrian blogger and media activist, was in the city of Douma, 45 minutes outside the capital, when she received a call: Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, dug in in the central Damascus neighborhood of Midan, needed someone who could set up a remote Internet connection. So she and two other activists went in a taxi, circumnavigating military checkpoints, to join the fighters.
Days earlier, Syria’s armed opposition launched an unprecedented assault on the government, which they dubbed Damascus Volcano and Syrian Earthquake. The operation peaked with a bombing at the national-security headquarters in the capital, which killed four top officials, including President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law. The regime was already striking back, sending helicopter gunships, tanks and snipers after roaming bands of lightly armed rebels.
“I went down there with a taxi driver who we trusted but I don’t know why and how,” Ghazzawi says. “FSA revolutionaries secured our entrance, and I was welcomed as a media expert. I explained I’m not. I’m just a blogger with a laptop and 3G,” she says, referring to her wireless Internet link.
Ghazzawi, 32, is a short, trim woman with large brown eyes. At the time of the Damascus battle, she was the only widely known antiregime blogger writing in English under her real name from inside Syria. She had already been detained by the government twice for her activism since the Syrian uprising began, once for two weeks after being held at the Jordanian border and a second time for 22 days after a raid on the office of her employer, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. She left Syria for Sweden in October 2012.
While the majority of news reports from Syria consisted of information stitched together by journalists outside the country and attributed to unnamed “activists,” Ghazzawi was a verified source reporting live from the firing zone, and doing so at great personal risk. “I was the one who uploaded the videos. I was the one who was giving all the information to certain media figures,” she recalled, speaking recently at New York University.
In addition to giving interviews and relaying information to the opposition Local Coordination Committee, she also wrote on her blog. Her dispatches from that July day are a combination of grim updates on the fighting combined with the odd details of life under siege.
“Update 11:17 p.m.,” she writes in her last entry of the day, “Clashes [continue] near regime checkpoints. Two people were injured, their injuries are not critical, they were hit by snipers.” She later signs off with this warm note: “I am having dinner now with citizen journalists and photojournalists, we’re eating tomato and mortadella. Come join us.”