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August 12th, 2015

Is Bassel Nearer to Freedom?

Last October, FOSS Force published a story on the 2012 imprisonment — without charges — by the Syrian government of Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil, a 31-year-old Palestinian-Syrian computer engineer specializing in open source software development. Bassel has become known worldwide for his strong commitment to the open source paradigm, teaching others about technology, and contributing his experience freely to help the world.

Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil

Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil has been under arrest in Syria since March 2012. (Photo: Joi Ito, CC-BY-2.0)

Earlier this year and up to a fortnight ago, the Syrian government has been systematically releasing hundreds of prisoners. However, so far Bassel hasn’t been one of them.

Jon Phillips, a digital activist living in the U.S. who has collaborated with Bassel on projects in the past and is currently working to help free Bassel, took a few minutes with FOSS Force to update Bassel’s plight.

FOSS Force: The Syrian government had released a few hundred prisoners recently, but unfortunately Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil is still imprisoned. A two-part question: Where do efforts to free Bassel now stand, and what can people do to help?

Jon Phillips: Yes, Bassel is like the last guy still stuck in Syria’s fake jail. This week, the Assad Syrian government released Mazen Darwish as a goodwill gesture following the release of two of his colleagues. Bassel should be released next. If we keep up the publicity that he has now been in Adra Prison for more than three years — more than 1,245 days — we believe this can happen. People can help by following #freebassel on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, like the posts, retweet, share and spread the word. We need more publicity urgently now!

FF: You also mentioned that one of the ways to keep Bassel’s plight in the public eye is the awards he has been nominated for and received. I understand he is nominated for an award from Al Karama, a human rights organization which assists those in the Arab world subjected to or at risk of arbitrary detention. Can you tell us a little about this?

JP: Al Karama is a supportive organization. They published a legal analysis of Bassel’s current bad situation of three years of jail without a trial which has helped immensely. The document looks at international law, agreements and then even Syria’s own constitution to determine all the violations of Bassel’s civil and human rights in order to make a statement of what should happen to Bassel next. Their conclusion: Bassel’s arrest and imprisonment is arbitrary and he should be released immediately.

Now, Al Karama is taking nominations for their annual Human Rights Defender Award, and we are encouraging people to nominate Bassel (Khartabil). You can do so here (the form is filled already).

Earlier, Bassel won the Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award, which helped get him moved from a horrifically bad jail to a less hostile Adra Prison. Winning this award will further increase the spotlight on Bassel, which increases the pressure to release him, your fellow Free Software engineer and Creative Commons activist.

FF: You mentioned the Palmyra Project, a 3D project Bassel was working on regarding a future city in Syria before his imprisonment. Could you tell us more about it?

JP: Before Bassel’s arbitrary detainment, and before the Arab Spring, Bassel worked hard on recreating the UNESCO World Heritage site, Palmyra. The city is one of the oldest in the world. The #FREEBASSEL project released all 16 renderings of Palmyra that we have access to with hopes of generating more 3D models of various time periods of the city.

This project shows the lunacy of locking up Bassel Khartabil, and locking out the young generation of cultural producers who intend to build up Syrian society in constructive, creative ways.

Since Bassel’s project never got released, the #FREEBASSEL project has taken on helping build up Palmyra even towards the city of New Palmyra. Since Ancient Palmyra is actively being destroyed by ISIL looters, we are considering ways to not just build a virtual recreation of Palmyra, but an entirely new city that is free from the disasters of the current Arab world.

Once Bassel is freed, New Palmyra will be his home.

FF: Is there anything else you would like to add?

JP: Thanks for supporting the #FREEBASSEL project, all the Free and Open Source Software People out there! Bassel is just like you and me. You will see him at events and conferences once he is out, and we will all have big talks together about this. Please support the #FREEBASSEL project now. It will make our discussions together even better in the future!

If you want to help pick up a shovel and do more, please join us on Bassel’s Wikipedia entry which needs some love and translation into other languages. Email us at info@freebassel.org about the New Palmyra project if you want to be a part of Arab Futurism.

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[For those seeking more information about what you can do to help #FREEBASSEL, you can visit http://freebassel.org.]

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Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

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