Entering Damascus University, Department of Sociology, was the first step for establishing a new phase in Hani's life. Through his studies, he gained awareness of social issues, an understanding into the idea of political states, and forms of governmental power. And this political understanding came against a backdrop of witnessing, along with all Syrians, on television the “swift mechanism” that changed some provisions of the constitution to facilitate the transition of presidential power from “father” to the “son.”
At such a moment, within his general education, the phrase “civil society” that Hani had read about in sociology research would have a great impact for his later professional choices. He became a member of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (CMFE), where he conducted two field studies on the performance of the Syrian press during the legislative elections (elections of the members of people's assembly in Syria) as well as the presidential referendum in 2007. These projects marked the real beginning of his practical and professional life as a human rights defender focused on the freedom of speech and expression. These very same studies, however, caused him trouble with the security authorities who summoned him several times in order to interrogate him.
On 16 February, 2012, the office of the CMFE, which is located in the capital city of Damascus, was stormed the Interrogation Department in the Military Airport of al-Mezzeh, a patrol affiliated with the Air Force Intelligence, A group of armed personnel in civilian clothes stormed the office in a manner that was not familiar to Hani and his colleagues. The patrol also closed down all the roads leading to the office with their vehicles. This was the beginning of Hani's detention journey that lasted for three and a half years. During which time, he was transferred to several security branches and other secret detention places, such as the Air Force Intelligence, the Punishments’ Temporary Jail in the Fourth Armored Division in Damascus, the Military Police, Adra prison, al-Suwaida Prison, and the State Security Branch/The General Intelligence Directorate.
Then on 15 July 2015, at exactly midnight, Hani heard a voice outside the room saying: "Hani al-Zeitani. Released.” Hani describes this moment as follows:
“I didn't believe it at first, but when I got out I found one of the prison police guards standing at the door of the room. He asked me about my name, then he opened the door and told me to get out to receive my ID and my other stuff. He also told me to sign a piece of paper testifying my attendance at a hearing before the “Counter-Terrorism Court” which was set to take place on 30 August 2015. After three and a half years, and after more than twenty hearings, I became free, I was outside the walls of this prison.”
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