Once head of communication at the Damaskus Opera, TV reporter – now a refugee in Denmark. Syrian journalist Lilas Hatahet shares her views on freedom of speech and journalism at the Nordic press freedom conference on May 2 in Helsinki, Finland
By Joan Rask
“When people die on the street every day, you can not just write about music and opera without relating to reality,” says Syrian journalist Lilas Hatahet.
This may sound obvious to Nordic journalists. Somewhat theoretical even when you’re thousands of kilometers away from what was Lilas Hatahet’s daily life in Damascus.
Lilas faced consequences in 2012, when she was first imprisoned in Damascus after a series of critical articles in the foreign press.
You can meet Lilas together with fellow refugee-journalists at the The Nordic Council of Ministers’ conference “Press freedom in a Nordic modern media landscape”, organized by Nordic Journalist Center and European journalists’ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard..
Lilas Hatahet, Ali Alabdallah, Leila Saadati – all refugee-journalists – will share their stories and share their views and experiences about press freedom and freedom of expression in the Nordics.
Tv from Egypt
For Lilas Hatahet, the risk of losing her life in Syria was too high. In 2012, she left Syria for Egypt. Here there was work and a culture that looked like the one she left. Europe was never really in her mind as a possible destination.
In Cario Lilas Hatahet was reporter and presenter at the TV station “Here Damascus from Cario” that reports regularly, while the Syrian people and the country falls apart.
In 2014, the Syrian authorities refuses to renew her passport because her work is damaging the country.
“I told them – I am Syrian, whatever they say and do.”
With no passport she could not stay legally in Egypt, and therefore Lilas Hatahet became a refugee with her two sons, now six and nine years old.
She contacted the European Journalist Federation (EJF), came to Denmark almost by incidence.
After years in refugee camps and after having been moved around in more parts of the country than most Danes, she now lives in a cottage, two hours from Copenhagen.
It is a long way to work. Yet she is lucky, because there is a job.
Saved by her profession
Lilas Hatahet feels incredibly lucky. Her background as a journalist gives her work at the International Media Support (IMS), located in Copenhagen.
“I hope that what I do is for the benefit of other Syrian refugees and for Denmark,” says Lilas Hatahet.
She has lost her family, her cultural belonging, her career and her home. All she has left is her two sons, herself and her profession – in a country where she could never learn to write in the native language.
“In my country, we thought that words could change society, but now the sound of weapons are larger than the sound of words,” she says. Doubts gnaw.
How much can words really change? She asks herself. Lilas Hatahet will do anything to become the voice of her country and share what she and others perceive and feel as new citizens in the Nordic countries.
“If we know each other, we are not afraid and if we open our hearts, we like each other better and we can do things together,” she says. This is why she participate in the conference about freedom of speech.
”I my country words can cost us our life,” she says.