If you haven’t heard of Bassel Khartabil, it’s understandable. He’s not exactly in the art world, though his current position might put one in mind of Ai Weiwei during his arrest. Khartabil is a computer engineer specializing in open source software, and he’s been detained in Syria since March 15, 2012.
Khartabil was arrested in the Mazzeh District of Damascus at the one-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising that has been plunging the country into civil war. He was picked up on his way home from work and his computer equipment and files were confiscated. Until recently, no information about his health or whereabouts are available. Now, Bassel has been transferred to a civilian prison and has been granted visitation rights.
The reasons for the arrest are also unknown, but given the power that social media and technology have held over the Arab Spring, it seems logical that Khartabil’s activism in the service of free access to information might have caught the eye of the government. The programmer was a volunteer for Wikipedia, Creative Commons, and Mozilla Firefox, among other projects, including the creative studio Fabricatorz, which has launched a site pushing for Khartabil’s release under the hashtag #FREEBASSEL.
In the Wall Street Journal, internet scholar and Creative Commons board member Lawrence Lessig points out that work by programmers like Khartabil has contributed greatly to Syrians’ ability to express themselves: “The ability to do something like juxtapose dubious claims by the country’s leadership with more truthful images from other sources makes remixing an important tool for political dissent.” “The government thus wants to shut the free-software, free-culture movement down, in a way that only a totalitarian regime can,” Lessig writes. Khartabil “represents a future, aligned against a totalitarian past.”
#FREEBASSEL recommends signing their petition for the detained activist and to write to Syrian authorities and our own diplomats. On Twitter, @freebassel tracks news of the case. We’ll be following as well.