December 15, 2014
A group of 57 human rights organizations issued a statement on December 9 demanding the immediate release of internationally recognized activist Razan Zaitouneh and three of her colleagues, one of whom is her husband.
Unknown gunmen had captured Zaitouneh, founder of the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), exactly one year before in the city of Douma in Damascus’ East Ghouta suburbs.
The statement, signed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, demanded armed groups in Douma, the most powerful among them being Jaish al-Islam, “immediately release the four human rights defenders if they are in the groups’ custody, or work toward ensuring they are released unharmed and without delay.”
A Jaish al-Islam spokesman told Syria Direct said that the brigade is working towards securing Zaitouneh’s freedom.
“The committee responsible for finding Zaitouneh… composed of all brigades in East Ghouta, the head of which is Jaish al-Islam, has started to make progress on this issue,” said Ghazwan al-Hakeem, speaking on behalf of Zahran Aloush.
Zaitouneh’s capture “was connected with external parties,” al-Hakeem said, without elaborating further.
The international appeal has yielded no new information, says Bassam al-Ahmed, spokesman for the VDC, one of the few remaining civil society organizations in Syria tracking human rights violations.
“There is no real information available on the kidnappers or the kidnapped,” al-Ahmed tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou.
“We hear only rumors concerning her whereabouts.”
Q: Talk about the media campaign called ‘What has Jaish al-Islam done to secure the release of Razan Zaitouneh?’ What are its goals?
The campaign [launched] on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of Razan Zeitouneh and her colleagues’ capture…it aims to remind Jaish al-Islam [of the capture], to charge [Jaish al-Islam] with the moral and legal responsibility [for securing their release], as it is the biggest and strongest rebel group in control of Douma, just as it has a large presence in the rest of East Ghouta.
Q: It is clear from the campaign that you are accusing Jaish al-Islam of the capture…what proof did you receive in order to charge the group?
My brother, I want to emphasize that mentioning Jaish al-Islam is due to its standing as the biggest and strongest rebel group in Douma. I don’t know if the media understood that as an accusation or not…
Also, in the human rights organizations’ announcement, we mentioned the detail that the family of Razan Zeitouneh has put the responsibility on Jaish al-Islam…
Q: A year after the disappearance of Razan Zeitouneh, what are the most prominent activities underway to secure her release?
There are a number of activities, most importantly a media announcement from 57 rights groups, and on the anniversary we received ten new signatures.
There is another campaign that independent activists are working on, and another campaign undertaken by the European Union.
In short, we are gathering support for the cause through all available means.
Q: Some accuse regime cells of kidnapping Zeitouneh—what do you think of this charge?
The area is encircled by regime forces directly, and under the control of the armed opposition, which bears responsibility for keeping civilians and activists safe.
Q: Do you think that Razan is still in Ghouta?
Unfortunately, we don’t have any information on whether she is in Ghouta, or even any information on her safety. We only hear rumors concerning her whereabouts.
Q: A year after her disappearance, have you received any documents, statements or leaks from the kidnappers?
Unfortunately, nothing real…it’s also rumors and empty talk…there is no real information available on the kidnappers or the kidnapped.
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