Resounding Voices in the Kingdom of Violence
Four Syrian Human Rights activists have been abducted for 12 months. So far there has been no serious investigation of the abduction, and no one has claimed responsibility. The Free Douma4 campaign seeks to break the silence.
One day before the International Human Rights Day, on December 9 2013, a group of masked gunmen broke into the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Douma, Damascus Suburbs, and kidnapped four human rights activists and members of the VDC. The names of these human rights activists are Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Khalil, Nazem Hammadi and Wael Hamada.
These four names need no introduction to most Syrians. They have worked tirelessly to document human rights violations and casualties since the Syrian uprising began more than three years ago. On the night of the Ghouta Chemical Attacks, on August 21st 2013, the VDC staff were amongst the first to be present at the scene to document and report on one of the deadliest and most notorious attacks since the start of Syrian unrest.
Razan Zaitouneh is a human rights lawyer and defender. In 2011 her courage and endeavour received international recognition and was awarded both the Anna Politkovskaya Award for women human rights defenders in conflict zones, and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Later on in 2013 she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award. Razan Zaitouneh is the founder of the VDC and a co-founder of the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) that were established after the mass protests in mid-2011. Local Coordination Committees provided a network for organising non-violent Syrian activists across the country.
To date no one has claimed responsibility for the abduction of Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Khalil, Nazem Hammadi and Wael Hamada. There has not been a serious investigation carried out to establish the whereabouts of the four human rights activists.
Theories abound as to who the culprits may be. Many Syrian activists consider the ‘Army of Islam’, led by Zahran Alloush as a suspect.
The prominent Syrian intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh, who is Samira Khalil’s husband, accuses the ‘Army of Islam’ of abducting the four activists, or at least facilitating the abduction by other parties. At the time of the abduction the ‘Army of Islam’ was the one dominant power in Douma. It is now known that Razan Zaitouneh was threatened by local armed groups in Douma before her abduction.
A ‘Kingdom of silence’, again
Douma is a suburb of Damascus that was in the forefront of the revolution of March 2011. It later became a stronghold of anti-Assad armed battalions. The abduction of the four human rights activists was followed by a profound silence from the local community of Douma. This silence could be due to the severe humanitarian situation that keeps the local residents occupied with meeting day-to-day basic needs, or due to their fear of reprisals if they stand-up and defend the same principles that they once took to the streets for.
The Free Douma4 campaign broke this silence in May 2014.
Please join us in demanding the immediate release of the Douma4 human rights activists by tweeting using the hashtag #douma4.
Follow the campaign on twitter: https://twitter.com/Doumafour
The campaigners have demanded that the armed groups in Douma, including the ‘Army of Islam’, should release the Human Rights Defenders if they were in their custody, or start an investigation on the abduction.
Assaad Al-Achi, a co-organizer of the Douma4 campaign, told NPA that the campaign has “managed to mobilize 46 human rights organizations to ask for the immediate and unconditional liberation of the human rights defenders and to put blame on the ‘Army of Islam’ for having failed to do anything. Douma4 brought the issue back to world stage and embarrassed the ‘Army of Islam’ and its Gulf sponsors.”
It is now 1 year since the abduction of the human rights defenders Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Khalil, Nazem al-Hammadi and Wael Hamada.
To date there appears to have been no actions yet taken by the armed groups in Douma.
Towards influential and visible actions
But what makes the case of these 4 activists different from the other plus 85,000 Syria’s forcibly disappeared ? “The 4 kidnapped HRDs were taken from a liberated area where they were safe in theory. They were kidnapped at the same time by a group of masked men chanting God is Great. They are different also in the prime role they have played in the revolution as leaders of the peaceful movement”, addedAl-Achi of Douma4 campaign and a “revolution comrade” of the kidnapped four with whom he has been, although from afar, working closely for 3 years.
Years before the revolution, Razan, Samira, Wael and Nazem have pioneered a struggle against dictatorship. Samira was imprisoned by the regime of Hafez al-Assad from 1987 to 1991 because of her political activism. Razan started her distinguished human rights activism since 2001 when she joined a team of lawyers defending political prisoners. She later co-founded the Human Rights Association in Syria which along with other activities led to imposing a travel ban on her in 2002. Since then, Razan remained resolute in her dedicated fight for a free and just Syria; she worked relentlessly to uphold human rights values, to document tyranny’s violations, to defend political prisoners from all partisan and religious affiliations, and to practice solidarity with the families of the prisoners and their causes.
“[…] it is possible for students in other countries to establish a form of solidarity with our imprisoned students, and for international human rights organizations, which settled for merely issuing statements when the students were detained, to follow up on their cases on a regular basis. And for the websites that publish portraits of Syrian prisoners of conscience to add the portraits of the detained students so that they are always present with us, [...] it is, however, important to say that signing petitions is merely the first step, certainly not the last one, in any campaign aiming to achieve its goals.”
Today we see the portraits of Razan, Samira, Wael and Nazim everywhere, many articles have been written about them and many human rights organizations have issued statements demanding their immediate release, of which Douma4 is the most prominent campaign. But is that all we can do?
On November 27th, 2014, Free Douma4 launched a second phase of their campaign on the occasion of awarding Razan, Samira, Wael and Nazem the International Petra Kelly Prize . The second phase includes political statements and articles in several languages, graffiti campaigns around the world, videos, solidarity demonstrations, and other activities to show solidarity. Fifty-four organizations signed a joint statement on December 9th, 2014 reiterating the demand for an immediate release of the 4 activists.
The campaign is open for everyone, everywhere to show solidarity not only with the cause of the kidnapped 4 but with the struggle of Syrian people against tyrannies on all fronts.
“I believe the cause of the Douma4 should be an international one, for the kidnapped four symbolize our mutli-layered struggle for freedom, justice and dignity. Our partners in this struggle are civil society actors around the world, libertarian social organizations, respectable intellectuals and all those who stand in solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people", Yassin al Haj Saleh, the distinguished Syrian intellectual and political dissident, and Samira’s husband told NPA.
On higher-level and directly influential actions, Al-Achi of the Douma4 campaign added that “More pressure should be applied by world powers on their Gulf allies to oblige the Army of Islam to open up its known and hidden prisons for investigation and to accept an independent investigation into the matter. Human Rights organizations should continue to lobby for their release and exercise maximum pressure to endure their safety and security”.