(Courtesy Rajaai Bourhan)
(Courtesy Rajaai Bourhan)

‘They saved my life.’

When two shells struck his kitchen, a mere 20 feet away from where he stood, Rajaai Bourhan didn’t think much of it–he was living in a war zone in the heart of Syria, after all.

Instead, he considered himself lucky: He had survived the bombing, accepting this new reality that shelling here was a part of daily life. So when it ended, he began cleaning his kitchen. It took him a week.

But then Rajaai’s neighbors told him they believed he was the reason their neighborhood had been targeted: Rajaai is a journalist. Throughout the war, he had written reports for or provided information to outlets such as The Intercept and The Economist. And though the act of reporting had become deeply important to him, he knew that his presence was putting his neighbors in danger.

So, under the cover of night, Rajaai packed up his life and left.

Over the course of the war, the beleaguered freelancer found himself fleeing often, always trying to stay ahead of the regime forces that targeted journalists like him, but never able to cross any borders. He called many places “home,” including, at one time, solitary confinement and the inside of a small cell alongside other political prisoners.

In 2019, he and dozens of other journalists were trapped in northern Syria, in Idlib province, with Assad’s forces closing in and time working against them. He and his newfound friends and colleagues pleaded for help to anyone who would listen.

CPJ heard their calls.

Together with our partners, we mobilized, undertaking what would become an unprecedented year-long effort to secure safe passage and refuge for the stranded journalists and provide them with emergency assistance. By September, we had helped move about 60 journalists and their families out of the country to somewhere safe. Rajaai was among them.

Today, he lives in Spain, continuing to work as a journalist and hopes to one day soon finish his education. And, he says, CPJ’s support over the past year has been invaluable to him. “Words are not enough,” he repeats over and over. “They saved my life.”

CPJ was able to defend and protect Rajaai and journalists like him because of your support. We cannot begin to describe the immense gratitude we have for all you have done for CPJ—and for journalists—over the years. We look forward to keeping you updated on journalists like Rajaai, whose stories lie at the heart of our mission. Thank you.