Syria: Syria: More than 5 years on the detention of Bassel Khartabil


Over five years since he was detained, the whereabouts of human rights defender and software engineer, Bassel Khartabil, remain unknown.

Bassel Khartabil is a computer engineer who worked in software and web development and used his expertise to promote freedom of speech and access to information via the internet.

On 15 March 2012, he was detained by Military Intelligence and held in incommunicado detention for eight months before the authorities moved him to Adra Central prison on 24 December 2012 where he was reportedly tortured and subjected to ill-treatment.  He remained in Adra prison until 03 October 2015 when he managed to inform his family that he was to be transferred. However, his current whereabouts remain unknown and there are serious concerns for his health and safety.

His family received unconfirmed information that he may have been transferred to the military-run field court inside the Military Police base in Qaboun, Damascus. These courts are notorious for conducting closed-door proceedings that do not meet minimum international standards for a fair trial. 

Since his detention, human rights groups at a national, regional and international level have campaigned for his immediate and unconditional 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 still refuse to free him.

Khartabil has received a number of awards for his work, 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. He was nominated “Their freedom is their right” Campaign Prisoner of the month in August 2016.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that his arrest and detention are a direct result of his human rights work and his efforts to promote freedom of speech and access to information. GCHR expresses serious concerns for his health and safety, especially as five years have now passed since he was taken by the authorities and his whereabouts are unknown.

GCHR urges the Syrian authorities to:

  1. Immediately disclose the whereabouts of Bassel Khartabil and grant him access to a lawyer of his choice and to his family;
  2. Ensure that he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment;
  3. Immediately and unconditionally release him;
  4. Release all detainees in Syria held for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association.

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present declaration.”