Razan Zeitouneh, born on 29 April 1977, is a human rights defender, journalist and one of the most prominent and respected of Syria’s revolutionaries.
Razan was well known in activist circles long before the Syrian revolution broke out. Following her graduation from law school in 1999, she became a lawyer in defence of political prisoners. In 2001, she co-founded the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS). Strongly committed to the cause of human rights and justice, she defended prisoners of conscience regardless of their political affiliation or background. In 2005 she established the Syrian Human Rights Information Link (SHRIL) providing information in both Arabic and English on human rights abuses in the country. She was also active with the Committee to Support the Families of Political Prisoners in Syria providing both emotional and material solidarity to those whose loved ones were in detention. Despite the risks, repeated harassment from the security services and a travel ban, she attended protests in support of Palestine, Kurdish rights, political prisoners and against the Iraq war.
When the revolution broke out she went into hiding in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta to avoid arrest. She co-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), one of the largest and most inclusive grass-roots revolutionary organizations. The LCCs were a network of local groups comprised of activists who organized demonstrations and documented the regime’s brutal crackdownon protestors, later delivering food baskets and medical supplies to communities under siege or bombardment. In 2011 she established the Violations Documentation Centre to report on human rights abuses carried out by all sides. She also founded the Local Development and Small Projects Support Office which assisted civil society organizations in the eastern Ghouta and supported local councils and women’s empowerment projects.
Razan endured many hardships alongside her fellow Syrians in the eastern Ghouta, which was subjected to a starvation siege and intense aerial bombardment by the regime. In 2013 she was present when the regime launched a chemical attack on the area. She says in one of her articles: “I witnessed the massacre myself. I saw the bodies of men, women and children in the streets. I heard the mothers screaming when they found the bodies of their children among the dead.”
Yet, she never gave up hope and was committed to raising the voice of revolutionary Syrians and making their struggle visible to the world. In a video released in 2013 she says: “the war conditions allow you to see only the ugly and painful side of the picture. But there is an amazing bright side to be seen. It’s about the awesome people – women and men- who are working silently on the ground to achieve their dream of freedom and justice, proving daily that nothing – not even our 100,000 deaths, or harsh siege, or the betrayal of the international community – can ever defeat the will of people who have a dream and faith in the future.”
Despite never seeking fame or the lime-light, Razan received numerous international awards in recognition of her bravery and commitment to the cause of human rights including the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (2011), the Anna Politkovskaya Award (2011) and the International Women of Courage Award (2013).
Her fierce independence and refusal to bow to any form of authoritarianism or stay silent in the face of human rights abuses made her a target not only for the regime, but other groups who sought power at the expense of people’s freedoms. She was kidnapped on 9 December 2013 in Douma which was under the strict control and surveillance of the powerful rebel group Jaish Al Islam at the time. She was taken along with three other revolutionary activists; her husband Wael Hamadeh, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hammadi who together became known as the Douma 4. Their fate is still unknown to this day. Razan’s kidnapping was a huge loss for the revolutionary movement and caused an outcry around the world.
A collection of Razan’s writing and interviews can be found here: http://www.razanwzaitouneh.com/