Poster courtesy of The Syrian People Know Their Way collective.
While the world is focused on the on-going war of the Assad regime against Syrian revolutionaries and the so-called presidential elections that will be held in Syria in June, we would like to remind people that it has been more than five months since Razan Zaitounah, Wael Hamadeh, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hammadi were kidnapped.
Unknown masked armed men kidnapped them from their workplace, the Violations Documentation Centre, in the city of Douma, located in eastern Ghouta near Damascus. This region is mainly held by opposition fighters, more precisely under the leadership of the Islamic Front led by Zahran Alloush. No information has been released as to the wellbeing of the four since the abduction.
We remind people about the fate of these revolutionaries because they represent, in many ways, the spirit of the Syrian revolution.
Histories of struggle
These four people shared a history of active struggle against the Assad dictatorship. Their activities in the Ghouta centre were very much appreciated by the local inhabitants. The centre offered activities and a safe space for hundreds of women,a place for local activists to work and gather.
Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian human rights lawyer, has been a member of the team of lawyers defending political prisoners since 2001. In the same year, she co-founded the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS). As a result of her activities, she was banned from travel in early 2002. This did not stop her however, and in 2005 she established the SHRIL (Syrian Human Rights Information Link), through which she has continued to report about human rights violations in Syri. She has also been an active member of the Committee to Support Families of Political Prisoners in Syria since 2005.
Her involvement in the Syrian revolution meant she had to go into hiding, becoming the co-founder of the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) and the Violation Documentation Centre (VDC). She co-founded the local development and small projects support office (LDSPS) as well, which aims to help people throughout Syria, and in eastern Ghouta specifically, providing their basic needs, essential services and support for medical and development centres.
Her husband Wael Hamadeh, a human rights activist, was detained twice by the regime during the Syrian uprising. He was also an active member of the LCC and was an opposition figure for ten years prior to the revolution.
Samira Khalil was detained for four years under Hafez al Assad’s rule for her political activism. This did not diminish her will for radical change in Syria and she continued her activities when she was released. She participated in the Damascus Declaration and Centre for Revival of Civil Society in Syria. Her husband, Yassin Haj Saleh, is also an important political figure, who spent more than ten years in prison prior to the revolution and is now in exile in Turkey.
Finally, Nazem Hammadi is a Syrian human rights lawyer and poet who has played a crucial role in the revolution. He and Hamadeh, along with other LCC members, sent out aid to cities and villages across the country, providing relief for tens of internally displaced families.
Why kidnap them?
Many have said that the kidnapping of Zaitouneh, Hamadeh, Khalil and Hammadi was a direct result of their condemnation, through the VDC mainly, of the abuses and violent practices of some military groups claiming to be part of the revolution. I believe, however, that the reason for their kidnapping runs much deeper.
The meaning of their kidnapping was well summarized by the VDC and the LDSPS: “Her kidnapping [Razan Zeitouneh] and the kidnapping of her colleagues indicate yet again the endeavour of some to undermine any form of civil action to help Syrians in the liberated areas to rule and provide for themselves.“
The main reason behind the abduction is that these activists represent a threat to some groups, just as they do to the Assad regime. They represent the Syrian people empowered, aware of their strength when they act collectively, and above all they show that the people refuse any form of submission to authoritarianism.
These four revolutionaries understood this, and have shown through their actions that emancipation is always an act undertaken and committed by the oppressed. This is why in their resistance against the criminal regime these human rights defenders have continued to condemn the reactionary and authoritarian actions of military opposition groups. They know very well that there are no shortcuts for the victory of the revolution, that there are no great liberators to whom we can hand over the responsibility of overthrowing the regime, and that there are no alternatives to the liberation and emancipation of the people, to building a new and democratic Syria.
The four are completely opposed to the idea that the end justifies the means – as put forward by some factions inside the opposition – because it is in contradiction to the revolutionary project. On the contrary, they understand that the end is determined by the means we use. Their actions show that the development of a new society must be based on the struggle of empowered people, who become aware of their responsibility and build a political project together.
We have observed many examples of this new Syrian society over the past three years, despite the terrible repression and destruction of the Assad regime, and the rise of reactionary Islamist and jihadist groups trying to divert the revolt for freedom and dignity into a sectarian war. The recent general strike undertaken in the city of Minbej in protest against the actions and the occupation of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham); the distribution of brochures and pamphlets by activists in Damascus to remind people of Assad’s massacres and violations over the past three years, and to reassert that the revolution continues in spite of everything, as long as there is injustice; these are clear examples of this new Syria being built every day.
Let us be clear on one thing regarding the responsibility of the Islamic Front in the kidnapping of Razan and her comrades. There is no proof yet that the Islamic Front is the kidnapper of the four revolutionaries, despite strong suspicions based on its past practices towards activists and revolutionaries in the region of Ghouta, including, for example, threats to Zaitouneh and to the popular council of Douma.
This said, the Islamic Front has done nothing to investigate or to seek the liberation of Razan and the others after their kidnap in an area under their control. The Islamic Front holds that responsibility by dint of being the main military group in the region. It is not enough to publish a ‘Charter of Honour’ stating its aim to establish a state of law, freedom, and justice, when there is no pressure to commit to the respect of human rights, especially in light of their past sectarian and antidemocratic discourses and practices. These words, which reflect a desire to be acknowledged as a moderate actor by western countries rther than any genuine democratic evolution, will not bring back Razan and her comrades. We on the opposite side wait for the Islamic Front to actively seek to work for their liberation.
The kidnapping of these four activists is also a reminder that the Syrian people’s revolution for freedom and dignity is not only against the Assad dictatorship, but also increasingly against reactionary and opportunist groups that oppose the objectives of the revolution: democracy, social justice and an end to sectarianism.
A banner raised in the city of Kafranbel in December 2013 summarized the situation very well: “The enemies are many…the revolution is one…and continues.” This is why we stand in solidarity with and demand the liberation of Razan, Samira, Nazem, Wael, and all those detained and kidnapped in Syria, and in solidarity with the Syrian revolution and its bitter struggle for freedom and dignity. There will be no return to the era of humiliation, oppression and tyranny. Glory to our martyrs and the martyrs of the popular revolution. Power and wealth to the people.
This article is part of the campaign Free Douma4, which calls for the release of Razan, Samira, Wael and Nazem. More information can be found here https://www.facebook.com/douma4 and http://douma4.wordpress.com