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Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.

Yara Bader © Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale)

Yara Bader, a journalist and human rights activist, works to expose the detention and torture of journalists, bloggers, aid workers, and human rights activists—including her husband, the prominent activist Mazen Darwish—in war-torn Syria.

Since Syria exploded into conflict four years ago, Bader has experienced first-hand how its security and intelligence agencies brutally crack down on independent voices. In 2012, security forces raided the offices of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) and detained Bader and Darwish, its director, as well as 14 other staff members, on charges of disseminating prohibited information. Bader was released but Darwish remains in jail, where he has reportedly been severely tortured.

Yara reminds us that Syria is not just Assad’s barrel bombs or ISIS’s brutality. Despite the personal price she has paid - her previous arrest as well as her husband’s 3 year detention - Yara has remained a hopeful and courageous voice for a tolerant Syria that respects freedom of expression.
Nadim Houry

Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa Division

As acting director of SCM, Bader speaks out on behalf of her husband and so many others who are paying a horrific price for exposing the truth about the Syrian government’s intolerance of dissent, and promotes the work of journalists and defenders of those freedoms. With the international media’s access severely limited and observer missions barred from working in the country, Bader’s work is vital to ensuring that the world does not forget the hundreds of human rights activists, journalists, bloggers, and other independent voices who have been jailed and tortured in their fight for free expression and association.

Human Rights Watch honors Yara Bader as the representative of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, as well as its detained founder Mazen Darwish, for their tremendous courage and perseverance in speaking out on behalf of Syrian detainees despite grave risks to their safety.

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