BEIRUT: Prominent Syrian human rights lawyer and opposition activist Razan Zeitouneh was kidnapped along with three human rights activists near Damascus, opposition sources told The Daily Star Tuesday.
Zeitouneh, 36, heads the Violations and Documentation Center and, as one of the founding members of the Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists operating on the ground in Syria, has been a leading figure of the opposition in Syria since the uprising in the country began in March 2011.
Wael Hammada, Zeitouneh’s husband who was previously detained by government forces for opposition activism, and two other VDC activists, Nazim Hamadi and Samira Khalil, were also kidnapped when gunmen stormed the VDC headquarters in the Damascus suburb of Douma around 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, a VDC activist reported.
“On the morning of Dec. 10, a group of unknown people broke into the headquarters of a group documenting abuses in Syria in the Douma area in besieged Eastern Ghouta,” the LCC said in a statement.
However, a statement from the VDC released Tuesday claimed the four were kidnapped Monday. It was not possible to reconcile the conflicting claims.
VDC activists said they believed Islamist rebels operating in Douma were responsible. The rebel-held eastern Ghouta area has been under siege by regime forces for months. Multiple rebel groups, including the jihadist Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, are operating in the area.
The LCCs condemned the kidnapping and demanded the perpetrators free the activists without conditions.
Zeitouneh has been in hiding since 2011 as a result of her anti-government activism. More recently, her colleagues said she had been threatened by Islamist groups. Zeitouneh had become increasingly vocal about the threat radical Islamist groups posed.
VDC colleagues said Zeitouneh had received a death threat on Sept. 9, when men fired shots at her home, demanding that she leave the area.
Zeitouneh has been internationally recognized for her human rights work. In 2011 she was among the winners of European Parliament Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.