An open source culture advocate who tried to promote unrestricted online access to news and information in Syria, Khartabil had been held ever since military intelligence arrested him in Damascus on 15 March 2012 – almost certainly in connection with his activities.
“We offer our condolences to the family of Bassel Khartabil, whose release we had repeatedly demanded,” RSF said. "After this news of yet another shocking crime, we reiterate our call to the UN Security council to refer crimes against journalists in Syria to the International Criminal Court.”
Khartabil’s wife told the media in November 2015 that she had learned from Syrian intelligence sources that a military field court might have sentenced him to death. Human Rights Watch noted at the time that “military field courts in Syria are exceptional courts with secret closed-door proceedings that do not meet international fair trial standards.”
Khartabil founded the Aiki Lab in Damascus in 2010 with the aim of developing digital art practices and teaching collaborative technologies. He also participated in international projects such as Mozilla Firefox, the Arabic version of Wikipedia and the Syrian branch of Creative Commons.
He was responsible for the “New Palmyra” project, a website with a downloadable 3D version of the ancient city of Palmyra as it was before its destruction by Islamic State fighters. He was on Foreign Policy magazine’s list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2012, and won the Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award in 2013.
Syria is ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.