Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian-Palestinian open-source developer credited with helping to bring a free internet to Syria, was confirmed dead today by Creative Commons, the open internet non-profit Khartabil volunteered with. He was 36.
Khartabil pushed for freedom of expression and information in Syria. In 2010 he founded Aiki Lab in Damascus, an online community of open-source information and programs that is credited with “vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people,” according to MEPs Charles Tannock and Ana Gomes. He was a well-known Wikipedia contributor, and wrote code for open-source web browser Firefox to work in Arabic.
He was arrested in March 2012 during a protest in Damascus, and was denied regular contact with family and friends (in 2015 the United Nations declared his imprisonment "arbitrary" and demanded his release). On Tuesday, Bassel's wife Noura Ghazi revealed that she was informed by Syrian regime insiders that her husband was executed in 2015, after being secretly sentenced to death.
Khartabil's final endeavor was New Palmyra Project, which he worked on from prison. The project seeks to recreate, through open-source tools, the ancient ruins of Palmyra, which were captured and destroyed by Isis in 2015.
His imprisonment sparked the global #FreeBasel campaign, leading to condemnations by Amnesty International and former Secretary of State John Kerry, who called him a "prisoner of conscience" on International Human Rights Day in 2015. In 2012, Foreign Policy named Khartabil one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012 “for insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.”
The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that over 65,000 people have disappeared since the beginning of protests against Bashar al-Assad in 2011.