The International Press Institute (IPI) today marked the birthday of award-winning Syrian human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh, who remains missing since her abduction along with three colleagues in December 2013, by joining some 30 other human rights watchdogs in a message of solidarity and a call for their freedom.

Armed men kidnapped Zaitouneh and the others – her husband Wael Hamada, and Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi – known as the “Duma Four” from the offices of the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) in Duma, near Damascus. Since then, there has been no word of their fate, although local observers say they presume the four are being held by armed groups controlling the area.

Headed by Zaitouneh, the VDC monitors and reports on human rights violations in Syria, and the abduction of the Duma Four is believed to have resulted from their work. The joint message issued today, which was organised by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), noted that the detention of Zaitouneh and the others “forms part of a wider pattern of threats and harassment against human rights defenders by both government forces and non-state actors”.

Zaitouneh was honoured with the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR), and she was one of three finalists for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

GCHR Co-Director Khalid Ibrahim, reflecting on Zaitouneh’s commitment to her work, noted in the joint message issued today: “I worked with Razan for many years. It would have been very easy for Razan to leave Syria and have a luxury life in any Western country of her choice; however she decided to stay in Syria to do the job she knows best and loves more than anything else which is to defend the people’s rights in Syria.”

The full message in support of the Duma Four by human rights watchdogs appears on the website of the GCHR.

IPI joined in today’s message in the hopes of drawing greater international attention to Zaitouneh and her colleagues’ plight.

“We often remember our colleagues who travelled to Syria and lost their lives or remain in captivity, but it is equally important that the world also notes the brave Syrian men and women who have remained in their country at great sacrifice to share what is happening there with the world,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. “On this, Ms. Zaitouneh’s third birthday since she and her colleagues were taken, we hope that all four remain healthy and that they are safely and swiftly reunited with their families and friends.”