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We mourn the loss of our colleague Bassel Khartabil.
Who was Bassel Khartabil?
- Bassel Khartabil was a Palestinian-Syrian open source software developer and Wikipedia volunteer.
- He was an early and frequent, if anonymous, editor on the Arabic Wikipedia. He also contributed to Mozilla Firefox, and built and led the Creative Commons Syria project; his work on the adoption of Arabic-language Creative Commons licences has been described as "pivotal."
- Bassel was a widely recognised as a leading figure among the developing internet community in Syria, and was a recipient of the 2013 Digital Freedom Award presented annually by the non-profit Index on Censorship. In 2012, he was also named by the Foreign Policy magazine as one of the Top Global Thinkers for "insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.”
What happened to Bassel?
- Bassel was arrested by Syrian military intelligence forces on 15 March 2012. Since that time, he has been held in prison without trial or charge, and has suffered severe torture and mistreatment at the hands of the Syrian prison personnel, including an 8-month period of solitary confinement.
- In December 2012, Bassel was brought before a military prosecutor. During his short hearing, Bassel was unable to present his defence nor was he allowed access to legal representation. Afterwards, he was placed at Adra Prison on the outskirts of Damascus to await trial.
- On 3 October 2015, Bassel was moved from his civilian cell at Adra Prison to an undisclosed location, and has not been heard of since. In November, unconfirmed reports have surfaced from his family that he might have been sentenced to death by a secret Military Field Court, without right of appeal. In August 2017, it was revealed that Khartabil had been executed by the Syrian regime shortly after his disappearance in 2015.
Who supported Bassel?
- In April 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Bassel's immediate release from prison, and described his continued detention as "arbitrary." The Group has further specified that Bassel's imprisonment constituted a violation of Articles 9, 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, noting that the Syrian government failed to provide "any information that would indicate that Mr. Khartabil's peaceful non-violent activity constituted a threat to national security or public order."
- Subsequently, over 30 human rights organisations (including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, and the Gulf Center for Human Rights) signed an open letter urging the Syrian government to reveal Bassel's whereabouts and reunite him with his family. The Board of Directors of Creative Commons also approved a resolution calling for Bassel's release, and the MIT Media Lab offered Bassel a position of research scientist at the Center for Civic Media to work on projects to make Syria's history available to the world.
- Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation hosting Wikipedia, also supported Bassel's release. In addition to informing the press about Bassel's situation, the Foundation has spoken about it publicly at events and on social media. In March 2014, it hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon in Bassel's honour, and has remained in direct contact with his family.
Where can I read more about Bassel?
- There are Wikipedia articles about Bassel in over 15 languages, including English, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, and others. (All are linked from his Wikidata item.)
- You can also try these links: