Occupation: Computer Engineer
Current Situation: Detained since March 2012
A Syrian of Palestinian parents, Khartabil is a 34-year-old computer engineer who worked to build a career in software and web development. Before his arrest, Khartabil used his technical expertise to help advance freedom of speech and access to information via the internet.
On March 15, 2012, Military Intelligence arrested Khartabil and held him in incommunicado detention for eight months before moving him to ’Adra prison in Damascus in December 2012. During this time he was subjected to torture and ill-treatment. He remained in ’Adra until October 3, 2015, when he managed to inform his family that he was being transferred to an undisclosed location. Since then his whereabouts remain unknown and there are serious concerns for his life. Nevertheless, his wife had received unconfirmed reports from an alleged source inside the Syrian Military Intelligence suggests that he had been tried by a Military Field Court in the military police headquarters in al-Qaboun, which sentenced him to death. As a consequence, 36 local and international organizations issued a statement in November 2015 calling for the release of Khartabil ensuring his life is preserved.
Since his detention, many human rights groups have campaigned for his release. On 21 April 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his detention a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and called for his release, yet the Syrian authorities refuse to free him.
Khartabil has won many awards, including the 2013 Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award for using technology to promote an open and free internet, and was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012 “for insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.”
Among other projects, he founded Creative Commons Syria, a nonprofit organization that enables people to share artistic and other work using free legal tools. Despite his imprisonment, Khartabil’s digital work is still advancing knowledge; as his colleagues produced a new 3D model of the ancient Palmyra city, which was destroyed by Islamic State (ISIS), using data collected by Khartabil before his detention. The project was able to reconstruct the city’s earlier appearance based on Khartabil’s measurements.
It’s worth mentioning that the Military Field Courts in Syria are exceptional courts that have secret closed-door proceedings and do not allow for the right to defense. Based on accounts by people who have appeared before these courts, the proceedings were perfunctory – lasting minutes – and did not meet minimum international standards for a fair trial.
What Can You Do?
1- Write to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders at:
2- Post images of Bassel Khartabil and share information about him on your Facebook & Twitter accounts using the hashtag #حريتهم_حقهم
3- Send to newspapers in your country some information about Bassel Khartabil demanding to reveal his fate and pressurize the Syrian government to release him.