Bassel Khartabil

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"The people who are in real danger never leave their countries," Bassel Khartabil tweeted weeks before his arrest, Foreign Policy magazine reported. "They are in danger for a reason and for that they don't leave."

So Bassel stayed, only to be arrested on March 15, 2012 in the Mezze neighborhood of Damascus. “My life did not just change after Bassel’s arrest,” a relative said. “It literally froze in time.”

A Syrian of Palestinian parents, Bassel is a computer engineer who worked to build a career in software and web development. Before his arrest, Bassel 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. In March, the international organization Index on Censorship awarded Bassel the 2013 Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award for his work using technology to promote an open and free Internet.

Syrian security forces arrested Bassel as he was leaving a business meeting in Damascus and held him in the Military Intelligence detention facility in the Kafar Souseh neighborhood of Damascus for eight months, he later told his family. Before his arrest, he had kept a low profile, as the security forces seemed to be targeting journalists and technology-savvy activists for arrest. Security forces learned of his whereabouts from another detainee who was subsequently released, the relative told Human Rights Watch. Agents sent Bassel to Sednaya, where prison personnel tortured him for three weeks, he later told his family. Officials provided Bassel’s family with no information about where or why he was in custody until December 24, 2012, when they moved him to Adra.

During a military field court proceeding on December 9, 2012, a military judge interrogated Bassel for a few minutes. Now Bassel awaits the court’s verdict in Adra. A relative living outside of Syria told Human Rights Watch that Syrian officials did not inform Bassel of the charges against him, allow his attorney to attend his December court proceeding or show him the evidence against Bassel, and did not allow Bassel to present a defense.

Foreign Policy magazine named Bassel one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012, “for insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.” As someone who believes in peaceful democratic transition, he was disturbed when he heard from his relatives that the opposition had taken up arms, said a relative who can regularly visit him in the Adra prison. “Even though he was detained and severely tortured, he has not forgotten his principles, his peaceful principles,” the relative said.

“I am really worried about Bassel,” the relative said. “He’s lost a lot of weight and looks physically and psychologically exhausted. I’m also exhausted. This state of uncertainty is draining for both of us.”

Bassel talking about Creative Commons and its role and the different Creative Commons permits given to online content: