(Geneva, 28 April 2015) – To mark the 38th birthday (on April 29) of missing human rights defender and lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, head of the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria (VDC), winner of the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of RAW in WAR (Reach All Women In War), the undersigned human rights organizations today reiterate their call for her immediate release, as well as that of her missing colleagues Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada.
On December 9, 2013, the four human rights defenders, collectively known as the “Duma Four”, were abducted during a raid by a group of armed men on the offices of the VDC in Duma, near Damascus. There has been no news of their whereabouts or health since.
The VDC is active in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations in Syria and the undersigned organizations believe that the abduction of the four activists was a direct result of their peaceful human rights work. Their ongoing detention forms part of a wider pattern of threats and harassment by both government forces and non-state actors seeking to prevent human rights defenders exposing abuses.
In the months prior to her abduction Razan Zaitouneh wrote about threats she had been receiving and informed human rights activists outside Syria that they originated from local armed groups in Duma. The most powerful armed group operating in Duma at the time of the abductions is the Army of Islam headed by Zahran Alloush. In April 2014, Razan Zaitouneh’s family issued a statement saying they held Zahran Alloush responsible for her and her colleagues’ wellbeing given the large presence his group maintained in the area.