BEIRUT: Opposition fighters from the Douma Martyrs Brigade stormed a building in the besieged rebel area of Douma in Damascus countryside Friday, searching for kidnapped human rights lawyer Razan Zeitouneh. Zeitouneh along with her husband and two colleagues from the Violations and DocumentationCenter were kidnapped from the group’s headquarters in Douma late Sunday.
So far no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The VDC said an unknown armed group was responsible, but others have pointed blame at radical Islamists form the Liwa al-Islam Brigade that controls Douma.
The high-profile human rights lawyer and founding member of the Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists established at the beginning of the uprising in Syria, had been in hiding for over two years but had recently settled in the Douma area of eastern Ghouta, where she was documenting life under government siege.
Zeitouneh was an outspoken government opponent who had won international recognition for her human rights work. More recently, however, she had warned against increasing human rights abuses against civil activists by Islamist rebel groups.
Friends and colleagues at the VDC Friday recounted to The Daily Star how they had pleaded with Zeitouneh to leave the area after she had received death threats from hard-line groups active in eastern Ghouta.
According to friends, Zeitouneh was determined to stay and help civilians living under siege, despite feeling threatened and increasingly pessimistic about the humanitarian situation.
Bassam al-Ahmad, a spokesman and activist with the VDC, said he had spoken to Zeitouneh just hours ahead of her abduction.
“She was sick with flu ... and she was very tired,” Ahmad said, “She was worried about people and siege, about the children.”
“She was saying: ‘Bassam you can not imagine the situation here. There is nothing to eat. Nothing to drink,’” he recalled.
He said while she never mentioned the dangers posed by the brigade controlling eastern Ghouta, “You knew she was feeling threatened.”
Ahmad confirmed brigades in the area were assisting with the search for Zeitouneh but said a raid on a building Friday had failed to yield results.
A statement issued by the Douma Martyrs Brigade Friday said forces had been deployed to raid the building where it was believed Zeitouneh and her colleagues were being held.
“But we found nobody [there] and promise to keep searching, demanding their immediate release,” the statement read.
Zeitouneh recorded a video message shortly before her kidnap, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day Monday.
“It’s very difficult to explain what being under siege means. For example, how can you explain to another that your child has not eaten egg or drunk milk for several months?” she said in the video.
“The war conditions allow you to see only the ugly painful side of the picture but there is an amazing bright side to be seen in the same picture ... It’s about the awesome people, the brave men and women who are working silently on the ground to achieve their dream of freedom and justice and proving daily that nothing, not even over 100,00 deaths, or a harsh siege ... can ever defeat the will of the people who have a dream and faith in the future.”
Tributes and well wishes poured in for her safety across social media platforms Friday, with some describing her as “Syria’s Nelson Mandela.”
Ahmad said he believed Zeitouneh would prove defiant.
“Razan is strong and she will stay mighty,” he said, “I hope she will be with us again soon.”