Amina Khoulani is one of the founders of Families for Freedom @FamiliesSyria, a women-led Syrian movement calling for the release of detainees, and for justice.
She is from the predominantly agricultural town of Daraya, on the outskirts of Damascus. Prior to the revolution, she worked as a history teacher in a secondary school in the capital.
Amina was involved in civil activism before the revolution despite such activities being ruthlessly suppressed by the regime. Together with other young women and men from Daraya, and under the mentorship of the pacifist religious scholar Abdul Akram Al Saqqa who promoted social and political freedom and free thinking amongst his students, she formed the Daraya Youth Group. The youth carried out many activities such as cleaning the streets of their town, conducting campaigns against bribery and corruption and organizing demonstrations against the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Due to these activities, members of the group were arrested. The young women were subjected to lengthy interrogations and the young men were imprisoned for 3-4 years.
When the revolution broke out, Amina joined the protests and alongside others distributed roses and water bottles to the security services sent to attack the demonstrators. She handed them papers upon which was written ‘You and I are Syrians. Why are you killing us?” She also regularly visited the graves of protesters who were killed and provided support to their families.
Amina survived the Daraya massacre in August 2012, hiding in a basement with young children and the elderly from the neighbourhood to escape the intense bombing the town was subjected to by the regime.
In October 2013, due to their revolutionary activities, Amina and her husband were arrested from their home by Air Force Intelligence. Amina was released after six months. In detention she was held in solitary confinement and subjected to beatings and mock executions. Her husband spent two and a half years at the notorious Sednaya Prison which Amnesty International described as a ‘human slaughterhouse’ before he was released. Three of Amina’s brothers were also arrested for their peaceful activism and died under torture in detention. The regime provided the family with death certificates for two of the brothers, and the third’s corpse was identified in the Ceasar documents (pictures of those who died under torture in regime detention which were released by a military photographer). Amina has a fourth brother who was held at the Sednaya military prison and was released after undergoing brutal torture. Amina has shared before and after photos of her brother on social media to demonstrate the severity of conditions in detention.
In 2014, Amina fled Syria to Lebanon and eventually made her way to Manchester in the United Kingdom where she now lives with her husband and three children. She has not given up her activism and is one of the founders of Families for Freedom, a women-led movement calling for freedom and justice for those who have been detained or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime and other armed groups. In August 2019 Amina addressed the UN Security Council (UNSC) at the first ever session on detention in Syria. She called on UNSC to act on its obligations in cases of systematic violations of international law. She emphasized that UNSC has “utterly failed” detainees in Syria. Stating “You have let vetoes and excuses get in the way of what is right and just.”
In an interview with Syria Notes, Amina said “I never lost faith in how just this revolution is. Despite that I might never see the results of this revolution with my own eyes, maybe one day my grandchildren will feel very proud of me. I will never be silent.”
In March 2020 Amina was awarded the International Woman of Courage Award by the US State Department.