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Bassel Pays with His Life for Non-Violent Resistance in Syria

Death of Detained Activist Puts Spotlight on Syria’s Ghastly Prison System

Bassel Khartabil © Joi Ito/cc

Yesterday Noura Safadi said that she had received confirmation that the Syrian authorities executed her husband, Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil, two years ago. Noura had been looking for Bassel since he disappeared from a Syrian prison in October 2015.

Bassel, a Syrian-Palestinian computer engineer, used his expertise to advance freedom of speech in Syria. Foreign Policy magazine named Bassel one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012, “for insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.” Syrian security forces arrested Bassel in March 2012, and a relative said he was tortured in an unofficial detention facility run by Military Intelligence. Syria’s security services routinely subject detainees to horrific forms of torture in a web of facilities amounting to a torture archipelago.

In December 2012, the authorities transferred Bassel to `Adra prison where Noura was finally able to visit him, and learned he would be tried in a military field court for his peaceful activism. Military field court proceedings are secret and usually last only a few minutes; defendants have no legal representation, and the decisions are not subject to appeal. Bassel appeared before a field court in December 2012 but never heard a verdict.

He remained in `Adra prison until October 3, 2015, when the authorities transferred him to an undisclosed location, Noura said. Bassel disappeared – like tens of thousands of Syrians in government custody. Noura asked about his whereabouts to no avail – until she heard he had been executed, apparently under a court death sentence.

Bassel’s case is a prime example of Syria’s horrific justice system. Not only did the authorities torture and execute him, they also caused suffering to his family by keeping his fate secret. The government has unlawfully detained thousands of Syrians, including many peaceful activists like Bassel, and thousands have died in Syria’s dungeons. Human Rights Watch has photos of almost 7,000 bodies who died in custody.

Bassel’s death should serve as a reminder that reforming Syria’s justice system is a key element of any political solution to the conflict, as is accountability for all perpetrators. A good start would be granting independent observers access to detention centers in Syria.

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