This Syrian Activist Was Fighting to Expose Atrocities, and Now She's Been Kidnapped


Syrian activist Razan Zaitouneh, described as "the woman revolutionary in a male-dominated war" by a fellow activist, has been kidnapped along with her husband and two colleagues from a Damascus suburb. In addition to the physical loss of an active voice, Zaitouneh's kidnapping marks a symbolic loss for the increasingly shrinking, non-violent resistance to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Zaitouneh's work has been essential to understanding the extent of human rights abuses by various factions within Syria.

The perpetrators of the kidnapping are still unknown. We do know that Zaitouneh and the others were kidnapped by masked men in Damascus, from an office at the Violations Documentation Center, one of two nongovernmental organizations Zaitouneh co-founded to track deaths, disappearances and human-rights violations. Her work has investigated and condemned government forces and rebel factions alike, leaving little room for certainty on who might be behind the kidnapping.

Prior to the ongoing Syrian revolution against Assad's regime, Zaitouneh was an active human rights lawyer working within Syria. Her human rights work, which has garnered national attention, put her at odds with the government. She actively visited and wrote about political prisoners and other dissidents, putting her on the government's radar. Subsequently, she was banned from travelling in 2002.

Like so many other Syrians, Zaitouneh's life changed as dramatically as the country in 2011. Before the commonplace bloodshed that now dominates the news cycles, the early days of the Syrian Revolution were marked by non-violent protests in the spirit of the most effective uprisings in the Arab Spring.

Forced into hiding, Zaitouneh raised awareness of the government's atrocities through her own website, the Syrian Human Right Information Link (now down). The website was one of the best sources for documenting atrocities. Zaitouneh also actively used her Twitter account to let the world know what was actually happening on the ground.

Foreign Policy named her one of the global thinkers of 2011, before the Revolution escalated in casualties. Zaitouneh also stood out as a prominent female figure in a masculine monopoly of brutality. Incidents like the profiling of pregnant women for sniper targets and other cases of gender-based violence, like rape, emphasize the risks Zaitouneh has taken.

A heartfelt blog post by well-known activist Razan Ghazzawi, responding to the kidnapping, shows how important Zaitouneh is to the non-violence movement in Syria. Ghazzawi writes of Zaitouneh, "I want her back walking on the lands that deserve her. I want her to breath the air of freedom she works so hard to attain. I want her safe and I want her back."

Zaitouneh's work is paramount to the documentation of human rights abuses, and her kidnapping signals that these are far from over. Zaitouneh describes her own work:

"Discovering for the first time within decades our voices and personalities, and how it feels to bring down walls of fear as we stand for our beliefs."

May she return safely.