Fears for Life of Free Expression Advocate: Bassel Khartabil, in Undiscloed Location, May Face Death Sentence

(Beirut, November 20, 2015) - Bassel Khartabil, adefender of freedom expression being held in conditions amounting toenforced disappearance may be facing a death sentence, 36 local and internationalorganizations said today. His wife has received unconfirmed reports that aMilitary Field Court has sentenced him to death. His whereabouts should bedisclosed immediately, and he should be released unconditionally, the groupssaid.

Military Intelligence detained Khartabil on March 15, 2012. He washeld in incommunicado detention for eight months and was subjected to tortureand other ill-treatment. He is facing Military Field Court proceedings for hispeaceful activities in support of freedom of expression. A military judgeinterrogated Khartabil for a few minutes on December 9, 2012, but he had heardnothing further about his legal case, he told his family. In December 2012 hewas moved to ‘Adra prison in Damascus, where he remained until October 3, 2015,when he was transferred to an undisclosed location and has not been heard ofsince.

Reports that his wife received from alleged sources inside MilitaryIntelligence suggest that since his disappearance he has been tried by aMilitary Field Court in the Military Police headquarters in al-Qaboun, whichsentenced him to death. Military Field Courts inSyria are exceptional courts with secret closed-door proceedings that do notmeet international fair trial standards. Defendants have no legalrepresentation, and the courts’ decisions are binding and not subject toappeal. People brought before such courts who were later released have saidthat proceedings are perfunctory, often lasting only minutes.

Khartabil is a software developer who has used his technicalexpertise to help advance freedom of speech and access to information via theinternet. He has won many awards,including the 2013 Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award for usingtechnology to promote an open and free internet. His arrest and on-goingdetention are apparently a direct result of his peaceful and legitimate work,the groups said.

Demands for his release have been published by this group sincehis arrest and have been echoed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentionin April 2015.

The authorities in Syriashould:

1. Immediately disclose the whereabouts of Bassel Khartabil and grant him access to a lawyer and tohis family;

2. Ensure that he is protected from tortureand other ill-treatment;

3. Immediately and unconditionally releasehim;

4. Releaseall detainees in Syria held for exercising their legitimate rights to freedomof expression and association.

List of signatories:

1. Action by Christians for the Abolition ofTorture (ACAT)

2. Amnesty International (AI)

3. Arab Foundation for Development andCitizenship (AFDC)

4. Arabic Network for Human RightsInformation (ANHRI)

5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

6. Centre for Democracy and Civil Rights inSyria

7. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

8. EuroMed Rights (EMHRN)

9. Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights

10. Front Line Defenders (FLD)

11. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

12. HIVOS Humanist Institute for Co-operationwith Developing Countries

13. Human Rights Watch (HRW)

14. Index on Censorship

15. Institute for War & Peace Reporting(IWPR)

16. International Federation for Human Rights(FIDH) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

17. Iraqi Association for the Defence of Journalists’Rights (IJRDA)

18. Lawyer's Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)

19. Maharat Foundation

20. Metro Centre to Defend Journalists inIraqi Kurdistan

21. PAX

22. PEN International

23. Rafto

24. Reporters Without Borders(RSF)

25. Rethink Rebuild Society

26. Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)

27. SKeyes Center for Media andCultural Freedom

28. Syrian American Council (SAC)

29. Syrian Association for Citizenship

30. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom ofExpression (SCM)

31. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)

32. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

33. Syrian Women Association

34. The Day After Association (TDA)

35. Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC)

36. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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