Rights organizations urge release of Syria activists

Rights organizations have called for the release of four Syrian activists kidnapped in Damascus last year. No one ever claimed responsibility for their abduction, and they haven’t been heard of since the kidnapping.


Razan Zeitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazim al Hamadi, some of Syria’s most prominent human rights campaigners, were detained by gunmen in the country’s rebel-held Douma area in December 2013 during an attack on the office of the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC).

On Monday, 54 rights organizations, including VDC, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, announced in a statement that the four activists appeared to have been targeted for their work.

“The armed groups in control of the area, and the governments who support them, should do everything in their power to facilitate the release,” the organizations said in a joint statement, adding that such actions were prohibited by international humanitarian law and were also contrary to human rights standards.

The rights groups called on the Army of Islam, the rebel group holding Douma, to free the four activists if they were in its custody. The militant group has repeatedly denied any role in their abduction.

“There are thousands of activists who have been arrested or liquidated by President Bashar al-Assad and his militias and security forces or by Islamic State, and they must not be forgotten,” Captain Islam Alloush, a spokesman for the Army of Islam, said.

Douma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, is still under the control of rebels trying to overthrow Assad’s government.

Award-winning activists

According to Syrian rights groups, Zeitouneh had received threats from both the regime and the opposition before her kidnapping. The statement described the activist as “one of the key lawyers defending political prisoners in Syria since 2001.”

Zeitouneh was among the 2011 winners of the European Parliament’s human rights prize. Hamada, her husband, had worked with the VDC and the opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCC) and was involved in documenting the death toll in Syria’s protracted conflict.

Khalil, another veteran human rights activist, had been working with women in Douma on income-generating projects. Hamadi, an LCC founder, was helping deliver humanitarian aid to people in a besieged rebel area.

More than 200,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 after peaceful demonstrations against Assad’s government.

shs/mkg (AFP, dpa)