Offline: Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil
March 15, 2016: On the third anniversary of his detention, and four months since his rumored death sentence, there has still been no contact with Bassel Khartabil, or news of his status. We, as well as thousands of his concerned friends around the world, continue to ask: Where is Bassel?
November 12, 2015: Noura Ghazi, Bassel's wife, reported rumors that Bassel has been sentenced to death by the military courts. The Assad government has remained silent on Bassel's status or whereabouts. At the United Nation's Internet Governance Forum, we urged governments and civil society to put pressure on Syria.
October 7, 2015: Human rights groups from around the world, including EFF, have called for the Syrian authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Bassel and reunite him with his family. Amnesty International has released its instructions on who to contact within the Syrian government to advocate for Bassel's release, and what to say.
October 5, 2015: There has been no confirmation from official sources. Bassel's fellow prisoners told his wife yesterday that a military police patrol took Bassel "with a 'top secret' sealed order from the Field Court."
October 3, 2015: Bassel was moved earlier today from Adra prison. He was told to pack up his belongings with no prior warning, and taken to an unknown location. There is currently speculation that he may have been transferred to the Military Field Court in Qaboun.
What you can do: Unannounced movements can spell a radical change in conditions for prisoners. It's vital that the Syrian authorities understand that their activities are being monitored by the wider world and that Bassel's status is an issue of international concern. You can join Bassel's community Facebook group for the latest news, share links to Bassel's story, and publicly support him by signing his petition.
In 2011, after the protests began in Syria, Palestinian-Syrian software developer Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil kept the world updated on unjust arrests occurring in the country. He worked with his global contacts in the information technology world, including EFF activists, to disseminate information to Syrian contacts on how to stay safer online.
Bassel had long been a key figure in the Syrian tech community. He co-founded Aiki Lab, a hackerspace in Damascus, led the Creative Commons Syria project, and regularly contributed code and content to Mozilla, Wikipedia, the Openfontlibrary, and the Openclipart Library.
As the situation in Syria grew more unstable, Bassel saw more of his friends arrested. In March of 2012, his worldwide community of friends began to worry when Bassel's own online voice went silent. Unbeknown to his family and friends, on March 15, 2012, Bassel was arrested in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. It wasn’t until July 2012 that his supporters discovered—thanks to former detainees at Kfar Souseh—that he was being held at the General Intelligence Directorate there.
In October 2012, Amnesty International confirmed that Bassel was being held at Kafr Souseh, relaying fears for his safety amidst local claims of torture. In response to this information, many groups and individuals called for Bassel’s immediate release and championed his case via FreeBassel.org, a campaign run by a coalition of his friends and supporters.
Bassel briefly appeared in front of military court in December 2012. A relative told Human Rights Watch that "Syrian officials did not inform Bassel of the charges against him, allow his attorney to attend his December court proceeding or show him the evidence against Bassel, and did not allow Bassel to present a defense." As members of the European Parliament, Charles Tannock and Ana Gomes, noted in their 2013 address to the European Commission on behalf of Bassel, “it is strongly suspected that his arrest was part of an effort to restrict access to online communities and discourses and stifle free expression in Syria.” It was Bassel's visibility as a technologist and activist that made him a target for detention.
Freebassel.org reported that Bassel had been transferred to a Syrian military prison and had been denied a lawyer. Little was heard until Bassel’s family received a handwritten letter from prison, dated February 3, 2013. In it, Bassel referenced the efforts by the #FreeBassel campaign:
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
The letter provided much-needed reassurance to Bassel’s friends, letting them know that he was safe and that the campaign had not caused harm.
On April 21, 2015 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared Bassel's detention a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and called for his release.
On May 20, 2015 Bassel spent his 34th birthday in Adra central prison—over 1100 days since he was first detained in Damascus. A determined advocate for an interconnected world, Bassel remains imprisoned and cut off from his family, friends, and international community. The Free Bassel campaign continues to hold events all over the world to tell Bassel’s story, and—in the spirit of his ethos—create.