March 15, 2013 | By Jillian York

One Year Later: EFF Honors Jailed Syrian Blogger Bassel Khartabil

“Dear friends,

I can not find words to describe my feelings about everything you did for me.  What you did saved me and changed my situation to better.  Thank you all and big love!

3 February 2013
Bassel Khartabil Safadi”


In March of 2012, Palestinian-Syrian software developer and open source advocate Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil went silent.  When we had not heard from him online for a few weeks, his friends—myself included—began to worry.  It was unlike Bassel, an active member of the Creative Commons community, to vanish from online discussions. There were rumours that he may have been detained.  His last Facebook post, marked “friends only,” is dated March 14, 2012.

It wasn’t until July that our fears were confirmed: Bassel had been arrested, just one day after that Facebook post, in the Mazzah district of Damascus.  His family hadn’t been notified, eventually learning from previous detainees of where he was being held.

I first met Bassel in 2009, at a blogger conference in Beirut.  What struck me was his seriousness: At one point during the night, I was scrolling through Twitter, unable to sleep, and noticed that he was tweeting as well...only unlike mine, his tweets were about work.

One day we both showed up to the conference wearing our Creative Commons t-shirts.  He was envious of my Shepard Fairey edition, telling me he hadn’t been able to get one in Syria.  We took a photo together.

After the protests began in Syria in March of 2011, I began to hear from Bassel regularly.  He would contact me to let me know about new blocked websites, or to share information on what circumvention tools were working effectively, so that I could share them with my Syrian contacts. He kept me updated as more and more of his friends were arrested.

The note at the top of the page, dated February 3, 2013, arrived via Bassel’s family, handwritten from inside prison.  The letter, referencing the various efforts by the #FreeBassel campaign, provided much needed reassurance to Bassel’s friends all over the world, assuring us that our friend was safe and that our actions had done good, not harm.

Today we mark one year since Bassel was arrested. Along with Creative Commons and FreeBassel.org, Along with many colleagues in the digital rights and free culture communities, EFF will be marking today, March 15, as “Free Bassel Day.”  We once again call for Bassel’s immediate release, and urge other organizations and individuals to do the same.  Wherever you are in the world, take a moment today to remind the world about Bassel and the situation of the many bloggers and technologists in the Syrian conflict. Activism is often abstract. We write letters and sign petitions and march in the streets and it is sometimes hard to tell if it’s having any effect. But this letter from a Syrian prison demonstrates that our efforts to draw attention to Bassel’s detention have done tangible good.


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