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Syria: “Their freedom is their right” campaign names Bassel Khartabil prisoner of the month in August 2016

2016-08-11

Cairo/Beirut - “Their freedom is their right” (“#حريتهم_حقهم”) is a campaign for defending the rights of prisoners of conscience launched by Maharat Foundation and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) on 04 May 2014. The campaign was also joined by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), in addition to the members of the Arab Group in the IFEX network, who nominated Bassel Khartabil as the campaign’s prisoner of the month in August 2016.

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, he used his technical expertise to help advance freedom of speech and access to information via the Internet.

Military Intelligence detained Khartabil on 15 March 2012 and he was held incommunicado for eight months before the authorities moved him to `Adra central prison on 24 December 2012, where he was reportedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment. He remained in ‘Adra prison until 03 October 2015 when Khartabil managed to inform his family that security officers would transfer him to an undisclosed destination. His whereabouts remains unknown until today, and there are serious concerns about his life. His family received unconfirmed information that he may have been transferred to the military-run field court inside the Military Police base in Qaboun.

In October 2015, 36 regional and international human rights organizations released a joint statement calling for Khartabil’s release and for his whereabouts to be disclosed.

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 received a number of awards including the 2013 Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award for using technology to promote an open and free Internet. “Foreign Policy” magazine named Khartabil one of its 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 detention, his work still contributes to cognitive progress. Khartabil’s colleagues were able to produce a three-dimensional model of the ancient city of Palmyra, which had been destroyed by Daesh, using the data Khartabil collected before his detention. The project has been able to rebuild the historic appearance of the city before its destruction, based on measurements developed by Khartabil.

Military Field courts in Syria are exceptional courts that have secret closed-door proceedings and do not allow for the right to defense. According to accounts of released detainees who appeared before them, the proceedings of these courts were perfunctory, lasting only minutes, and in absolute disregard of international standards of minimum fairness.

About "Their freedom is their right" campaign:

The "Their freedom is their right" campaign was launched on 04 May 2015 to mark World Press Freedom Day (03 May). (See gohod.net) It is designed to highlight the cases of Arab prisoners of conscience and those behind bars for expressing their freedom of opinion in a peaceful way, through writing articles, commenting on Facebook, publishing photos, participating in a peaceful demonstration, lifting a banner, tweeting on Twitter, contributing though a work of art or speaking in a meeting.

The campaign highlights an Arab prisoner of conscience on a monthly basis, in order to support his or her right to freedom as a fundamental requirement for all prisoners of conscience. The campaign also demands the protection of prisoners of conscience from torture, supports the right to a fair trial, calls for improved prison conditions and protection from abuse, and asks those responsible to ensure prisoners receive the needed treatment. The right of every Arab citizen to freedom of expression is a right and not a gift, whether we agree or not. The words don’t go to court. The opinion is not punishable by law. So, the affiliated organizations to this campaign see that the duty of everyone is to participate in defending these rights.

The Egyptian student Mahmoud Mohammed Ahmed, the Saudi rights activist Waleed Abu Al-Khair, Kuwaiti journalist Ayad Al-Harbi, Qatari poet Mohammed Al-Ajami, Omani poet and blogger Muawiya Rawahi, Mauritanian lawyer Biram Dah Abeid, Bahraini human rights defender Abduljalil Al-Singace, Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayyad, Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Syrian human rights defender and lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, Egyptian journalist Hesham Jaafar, Bahraini human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, Jordanian journalist Tayseer Al-Najaar, and the Egyptian human rights defender Malek Adli were the prisoners of the month for the campaign in the past 15 months.

Members of the "Their freedom is their right" campaign:

- Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

- Maharat Foundation

- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)

- Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

- Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

- MARCH

- Social Media Exchange (SMEX)

- Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

- Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State

- I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research

- Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)

Bassel Khartabil Profile

Name: Bassel Khartabil

Profession: Computer Engineer

Nationality: Syrian

Status: Detained since March 2012

Bassel Khartabil is a Syrian computer engineer 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, he used his technical expertise to help advance freedom of speech and access to information via the Internet. Among other projects, he founded Creative Commons Syria, a nonprofit organization that enables people to share artistic and other work using free legal tools.

Military Intelligence detained Khartabil on 15 March 2012 and he was held incommunicado for eight months before the authorities moved him to `Adra central prison on 24 December 2012, where he was reportedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment. He remained in ‘Adra prison until 03 October 2015 when Khartabil managed to inform his family that security officers would transfer him to an undisclosed destination. His whereabouts remains unknown until today, and there are serious concerns about his life. His family received unconfirmed information that he may have been transferred to the military-run field court inside the Military Police base in Qaboun.

In October 2015, 36 regional and international human rights organizations released a joint statement calling for Khartabil’s release and for his whereabouts to be disclosed.

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 received a number of awards including the 2013 Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award for using technology to promote an open and free Internet. “Foreign Policy” magazine named Khartabil one of its 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 detention, his work still contributes to cognitive progress. Khartabil’s colleagues were able to produce a three-dimensional model of the ancient city of Palmyra, which had been destroyed by Daesh using the data Khartabil collected before his detention. The project has been able to rebuild the historic appearance of the city before its destruction based on measurements developed by Khartabil.

Military Field courts in Syria are exceptional courts that have secret closed-door proceedings and do not allow for the right to defense. According to accounts of released detainees who appeared before them, the proceedings of these courts were perfunctory, lasting only minutes, and in absolute disregard of international standards of minimum fairness. 

What you can do:

  1. Write to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders at: urgent-action@ohchr.org
  2. Publish a picture of human rights activist Bassel Khartabil on your Facebook and/or Twitter account using the hashtag #حريتهم_حقهم
  3. Communicate with the local media in your city or country with information about Bassel Khartabil, demanding the authorities reveal his whereabouts and his fate, and calling on your government to pressure the Syrian government to release him