Report on Razan Zaitouneh
When the Syrian Revolution started in March 2011, Razan Zaitouneh was working nonstop to organize and gather all of the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) in all Syrian governorates under one umbrella organization. Zaitouneh is a Syrian human rights lawyer who oversaw and ran the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) website with a team of human rights Syrian activists. As co-founder of the LLC, she worked to document human rights violations of the Syrian regime. Zaitouneh played a major role in organizing and leading the work of these two organizations during the Syrian Revolution.
Zaitouneh was born in 1977 and studied law at Damascus University. Before the revolution, as a member of the Committee to Support Families of Political Prisoners in Syria, Zaitouneh worked for about 10 years with a team of lawyers in defending political prisoners. In 2001, she was one of the founders of the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS) and in 2005 she established the Syrian Human Rights Information Link (SHRIL).
She participated in the Syrian Revolution from the beginning and became one of the most well-known civil society activists during the revolution. Her life changed at the start of the uprising in March 2011 when she talked to the media using her real name. After that, she had to hide and work on documenting violations of the Syrian regime through the internet instead of demonstrating in the streets. In April 2011, the Syrian security forces searched her house. They did not find her, but instead found and arrested her husband, Wael Hamada, and his brother. They were detained for about three months, subject to daily torture. According to news reports at the time, Hamada was kept in solitary confinement, tortured and badly treated during his detention.
Despite her husband’s imprisonment, Zaitouneh stayed strong during these difficult months and continued documenting violations. People all over the world took notice of Zaitouneh's brave work. In 2011 she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the Anna Politkovskaya award by Reach All Women in War, and the 2013 International Women of Courage Award.
The Free Syrian Army was able to free some cities in Syria during the first three years of the Revolution. Douma in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, was one of those free areas. Zaitouneh chose to live in Douma, where her husband is originally from. She felt free and safe there, that is, until December 2013, when she, her husband and their two colleagues were kidnapped from the office of the Violations Documentation Center (VDC).
On May 27, 2014, 46 organizations accused Zahran Alloush of the kidnapping of Zaitouneh even though it was not clear who exactly had abducted Zaitouneh. However, the Eastern Ghouta area, while originally besieged by government forces, has been under the control of a number of armed opposition groups. One such group, Jaysh al-Islam, is one of the most powerful groups controlling the Douma area. It was founded by Alloush after he was released from prison by the Syrian authorities in mid-2011. Today some Syrians are asking if one of the conditions for Alloush’s release was Zaitouneh's eventual kidnapping. There have been documented incidents of the regime strategically releasing prisoners when it serves their fight against the Revolution. Until now Zaitouneh, her husband and their two colleagues are still being detained and their whereabouts are not known.
We have been able to compile this article and corroborate details with information from Zaitouneh’s sister, Rana Zaitouneh, who lives in Canada.