October 30, 2012 | By Eva Galperin

Torture Fears for Open Source Software Activist Detained in Syria

In July, EFF called for the immediate release of open source developer and Creative Commons volunteer Bassel Khartabil, who had been detained in Syria since March 12, 2012 as part of a wave of arrests made in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. We felt that the situation was especially urgent in light of a recent Human Rights Watch report documenting the use of torture in 27 detention facilities run by Syrian intelligence agencies. Now it appears that our concerns were well-founded. According to a new Amnesty International report, a released detainee has informed Bassel Khartabil’s family that he is being held at the Military Intelligence Branch in Kafr Sousseh and had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated.

In response to this alarming news, Bassel's friends and supporters around the world have launched a letter-writing campaign, hoping to flood Syrian officials and diplomats with physical mail demanding that Khartabil be formally charged and given access to a lawyer or released immediately. Participants are encouraged to send photographs of their letters to info@freebassel.org.

EFF has sent the following letter to Syrian officials:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to express my concern over Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian man born and raised in Syria, who has been detained incommunicado since his arrest in Damascus, Syria, on March 15. One week after his arrest, Khartabil was briefly brought to his home by some members of security forces who confiscated his computers and files. The Electronic Frontier Foundation does not have information about the reasons for his arrest, but we fear it may be connected to the ongoing unrest and armed conflict in Syria.

A few weeks later when relatives inquired about him, security officials at the Kafr Sousseh Military Intelligence branch confirmed that Khartabil was detained, without revealing his whereabouts, his state of health, or if charges had officially been brought against him. International human rights standards require that detainees’ families are notified promptly after their arrest, and are allowed to communicate with detainees. Khartabil has also not been granted access to a lawyer, although international human rights standards require that detainees have access to a lawyer of their choice.

A few weeks later, a released detainee informed Bassel Khartabil’s family that he was being held at the Military Intelligence Branch in Kafr Sousseh and had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated, heightening our concern for his safety. Khartabil is also diabetic. It is not known if he has access to the medication he needs, if he has been provided with a diet that takes into account his diabetes, or if he has been granted a proper medical assessment.

EFF urges the people detaining Kartabil to grant him immediate access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, and all necessary medical treatment. We urge you to protect him from torture and other ill-treatment. Additionally, we call on you to release Khartabil, unless he is promptly charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and tried in proceedings that respect international fair trial standards.

EFF stands with Amnesty International, Creative Commons, Mozilla, and others in demanding Bassel Khartabil's safe return. We will continue to follow this case as it develops.


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