Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Four Syrian Rights Defenders Abducted

Award-winning writer Razan Zaitouneh, her husband and two colleagues snatched by unknown attackers.
  • Razan Zaitouneh. (Photo: IWPR)
    Razan Zaitouneh. (Photo: IWPR)

Syrian human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh was abducted by an unknown group on December 9 together with her husband Wa’el Hamada and their colleagues Nazem Hamadi and Samira Khalil.

IWPR is among 16 local and international organisations calling for the immediate release of all four, whose abduction in a Damascus suburb appears to be connected with their human rights and humanitarian work.

“Civil society activists, writers, journalists and lawyers have borne a heavy price during the ongoing conflict in Syria,” the statement says, noting that they have been targeted both by government security forces and more recently by rebel groups.  

The text of the statement follows below:

Abducted human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh and her three colleagues must be released unharmed

December 11, 2013

Four Syrian activists abducted in the Damascus suburbs, apparently in relation to their human rights and humanitarian work, must be released immediately and unconditionally, 16 human rights organisations said today.

Award-winning Syrian human rights defender and writer Razan Zaitouneh, along with her husband Wa’el Hamada and two colleagues, Nazem Hamadi and Samira Khalil, were abducted by unknown individuals on 9 December 2013 from a joint office for the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) and the Local Development and Small Projects Support (LDSPS) in the Damascus suburb of Douma, part of Eastern Ghouta, an area under the control of a number of armed opposition groups that is being besieged by government forces.

In a joint statement issued on 10 December 2013, the VDC and the LDSPS attributed the abduction of Razan Zaitouneh to her activities as a founding member of these organisations. The VDC is an independent non-governmental organisation that has been mainly documenting human rights abuses committed by the Syrian government in the context of the conflict. The LDSPS provides humanitarian assistance, particularly to medical centres in areas like Eastern Ghouta.

Like many other human rights activists perceived by the government to be involved in pro-reform protests, Razan Zaitouneh was forced into hiding in 2011 after receiving threats from the Syrian authorities. In the last few months, she received threats from at least one armed opposition group in the Eastern Ghouta area.

Razan Zaitouneh was recently the recipient of the 2013 International Women of Courage Award. She also has received the Anna Politkovskaya Prize and, in 2011, the European Parliament’s Sakhorov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Civil society activists, writers, journalists and lawyers have borne a heavy price during the ongoing conflict in Syria, falling victim to unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of government security forces and, more recently, becoming targets for armed opposition groups that disapprove of their activities. All parties to the conflict should adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law, which prohibits the abduction of civilians, hostage-taking and torture.

Co-signing organisations, in alphabetical order:

  1. Alkarama Foundation
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  4. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network
  5. Gulf Centre for Human Rights
  6. Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (Hivos)
  7. Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
  8. International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
  9. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) - in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  10. International Media Support (IMS)
  12. PEN International
  13. Reporters Without Borders
  14. SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom
  15. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  16. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) – in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders