While this petition and request for written or spoken answer is addressed first and foremost to Lakhdar Brahimi, UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria, it is also of concern to all parties present at the Geneva II Peace Conference currently underway as well as all advocates for the free and open web.
We, the undersigned, call on you Lakhdar Brahimi, to negotiate at Geneva II and beyond for the release of Bassel Khartabil from his illegal detainment in Syria by the government of Bashar al-Assad. In light of his peaceful work as a leader, community builder, and advocate for digital literacy within the country, Bassel’s freedom is an integral component of the peace process and is necessary for facilitating the dialogue of the Syrian people that is needed for a political solution to the nearly three-year-long crisis that has cost countless lives and left the country of Syria and its people in a state of tremendous devastation.
Bassel, a Syrian of Palestinian descent, was arrested by Assad’s intelligence forces on March 15th 2012 and has since been detained without a formal charge or access to a lawyer. Bassel is a distinguished computer engineer who, through his innovations in social media, digital education and open-source web software, is credited with opening up the Internet in Syria — a country with a notorious record of online censorship — and vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people. He was ranked by the American magazine Foreign Policy as the 19th most influential thinker in 2012 and awarded the Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award in 2012. His voluntary work, always non-violent in nature, was greatly valued by Syrians of all backgrounds, and his arrest impedes the growth of online communities and stifles free expression in Syria.
Bassel has been instrumental in spreading the use of open web technologies across the Arabic speaking world and promoting advocacy for a free Internet and sharing culture worldwide. In addition to playing a crucial role as facilitator of the Creative Commons Arabic language licenses, he opened Aiki Lab, the first “hackerspace” in the Arab world, in Damascus in 2010. Aiki Lab provided a space and resources for people, especially youth, to develop their technological and creative skills through open source programming and cultural projects. Such work is imperative for the type of community building and empowerment that helps to build a strong, free, and modern country and acts as a counter to the terrorism and radicalism that often looms as a spectre for idle youth (and idle hands), by providing young people with access to tools that help secure prosperous employment as well as civic and cultural engagement.
It is alleged that Bassel has faced torture at the hands of the Syrian authorities, and throughout his incarceration he has been denied all forms of legal representation. Although he has been moved from a military to a civilian jail, and although he has taken part in no military activity, he still faces a military court, and a life sentence, despite never being charged with a formal crime. Moreover, given his stateless status as a Palestinian refugee, his situation is even more dangerous than the already harsh conditions that Syrian prisoners of conscience are subject to.
Members of the Syrian Government continue claiming that a political solution to the ongoing crisis can only be willed by the Syrian people, but the incarceration of peaceful technologists such as Bassel severely prohibits the ability of the Syrian people to give voice to their will through the non-violent means made possible through digital tools.
Given the above, a request for written answer was recently filed with the European Parliament concerning Bassel’s case. We now pose similar and additional questions to you, Mr. Brahimi, with the request that they be raised and answered at the Geneva II Peace Conference and in its aftermath:
1. Is the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria aware of the ongoing imprisonment of Bassel Khartabil? If so, has he issued any public statement on the matter?
2. Does the the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria agree that Bassel's incarceration represents a further abuse by the Assad regime in its attempts to block the free spread of information?
3. Will the the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria use the leverage available to him to press for his release, insisting upon his status as a non-combatant whose only crime has been to oppose censorship and promote the freedom of information?
4. Does the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria concur that securing Bassel’s release is imperative to building the foundation of connectivity via technological infrastructure that is needed by the Syrian people to recover from the devestation caused by this nearly 3 year conflict?
5. Does the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria agree that Bassel’s imprisonment poses a significant hindrance in the ability of the Syrian people to come together under the banner of free discussion and open access to knowledge that is necessary for the process of state building and the peace process?
In addition to requesting that the questions above be answered in a public forum, we, the undersigned, demand that Bassel’s freedom be secured so that he may return to his family and his work in safeguarding freedom of expression in Syria, and empowering his community to self-organize and via a belief in their own voices as vehicles of peace and change. Moreover, Bassel’s work is of critical importance in the global open web community, in its fight to safeguard the freedom and privacy of all individuals who use the Internet on a daily basis. Bassel’s freedom is instrumental for finding and enacting a political solution not only in Syria, but throughout the globe, as his tireless efforts to open up the Internet in Syria, and their repercussions, remind us of how critically important and impactful the not-so-intangible medium of web technologies are for the creation of a free and open society.
To that end, we demand Bassel’s release.
We call for a #FreeBassel, a #FreeInternet, and a #FreeSyria.
#FreeBassel campaign: http://freebassel.org/
Bassel Khartabil on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bassel_Khartabil