The open source community and human rights organizations have joined forces to find a software developer who has been missing for months following the recent civil unrest in Syria.
Bassel Khartabil, a 31-year-old computer engineer, was the project leader of Aiki Framework, an open source tool for building web applications. He also contributed to various community-based online projects, including Creative Commons, Fabricatorz, Mozilla Firefox, Open Clip Art Library, Sharism, and Wikipedia.
He was arrested on 15 March 2012 in the Mazzeh district of Damascus, Syria's capital city, during the mass demonstrations that swept the country. His family says they have neither seen nor heard from him since, but news has reached them that he may be held in a security facility in Damascus' Kafar Souseh district.
Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, has issued a statement on behalf of the organization in support of the effort to free Khartabil, saying:
Bassel's expertise and focus across all aspects of his work has been in support of the development of publicly available, free, open source computer software code and technology. Through his efforts, the quality and availability of freely available and open technology is improved and technology is advanced.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also lent its support to the campaign, calling Khartabil's detainment "especially alarming" in light of a recent Human Rights Watch report documenting the use of torture in Syrian security facilities.
"EFF joins Bassel’s friends, family, and colleagues in calling for his release and condemns the Syrian government, which has held him for almost four months without charges or a trial," the organization said in a blog post.
Khartabil's supporters have launched an online petition, addressed to the Syrian government, urging his release. More than 1,000 supporters have signed the letter so far. In addition, the campaign encourages supporters to use the #freebassel hashtag on Twitter to raise awareness of the matter. ®