The continued plight of four prominent human rights activists, known collectively as the Duma Four, abducted at gunpoint two years ago and still missing, is a chilling reminder of the tactics used by both government forces and non-state armed groups to strike fear into human rights defenders in Syria , said Amnesty International ahead of the two year anniversary of their abduction.
Razan Zaitouneh and fellow activists Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada were abducted on 9 December 2013, when armed men raided their office in the Damascus suburb of Duma. There has been no news about their fate or whereabouts since then.
“Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues have fallen victim to the sort of human rights abuses that they worked so bravely to uncover. They must not be forgotten,” said Said Boumedouha, Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
“Their continued detention is a painful reminder of the tactics used by both government forces and non-state actors seeking to stop the work of human rights defenders.”
The four activists were working for the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC), which monitors and reports on human rights violations in Syria. Razan Zaitouneh was the head of the centre, and the winner of the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award, given by the NGO Raw in War (Reach All Women in War).
Duma is under the effective control of several non-state armed groups, as it was at the time of the abduction. These groups include the Army of Islam, which is part of the Islamic Front coalition of armed groups.
“The groups should immediately release the four activists if they are in their custody, and if not, work towards ensuring their immediate release. Countries that support these groups, as well as religious leaders and others who have influence over them, should also press for the release of the activists,” said Said Boumedouha.