Yesterday we received the devastating information that #NEWPALMYRA founder Bassel Khartabil was unlawfully executed by the Syrian regime. Needless to say, along with all of the international community whose lives he touched, we were shocked and saddened to learn of the outrageous, unwarranted, extrajudicial killing of our dear friend and collaborator.
Bassel worked tirelessly to share knowledge and culture for the advancement of the Syrian people. His projects were cultural prototypes; developing the near-future alpha versions of platforms catalyzing change in culture for the advancement of society, whether through software tools, community organization, or digital art. He founded the Aiki Lab hackerspace in Damascus, providing a vital community meeting place and educational space for youth interested in innovation. As the project lead for Creative Commons in Syria, he was instrumental in negotiating the terms of CC licensing throughout the Arab world. And of course, his prescient work in cultural heritage preservation laid the foundations for #NEWPALMYRA. His passion and efforts inspired a new community of coders and artists to take up his cause and further his legacy, and resulted in the offer of a research position in MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, his listing in Foreign Policy’s 2012 list of Top Global Thinkers, and the award of Index on Censorship's 2013 Digital Freedom Award.
Despite having many opportunities to flee the civil unrest in Syria, Bassel’s intense loyalty to his family, his wife Noura Ghazi Safadi, and his community compelled him to return to Damascus. He was taken from the streets in March of 2012 in a military arrest, and imprisoned in the infamous Adra camp with 7000 other political prisoners. His detention was ruled unlawful by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and condemned by international organizations such as Creative Commons, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Jimmy Wales Foundation. In October of 2015 he was moved to an undisclosed location, and we now know he was executed shortly thereafter.
Although our hearts break for our friend, we will redouble our efforts to further his vision of building a new future for Syrian culture upon its rich history through architecture, technology, art, and community. We ask for your help, collaboration, and continued support in keeping his legacy alive in the wake of this senseless and brutal tragedy.
To continue supporting Bassel's memory and work, Creative Commons has set up the Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund, at the request of his family. Contributions to the fund will go towards projects, programs, and grants to individuals advancing collaboration, community building, and leadership development in the open communities of the Arab world. Please consider making a donation if you are able so we can continue this important work.
More reflections on Bassel’s life and death: