Mozilla, activists call for release in Syria of open-source developer

The software developer Bassel Khartabil was arrested in March in a wave of arrests in the country

Mozilla Foundation and other activist groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have called for the release of Bassel Khartabil, an open-source developer who was detained on March 15 in the Mazzeh district of Damascus in a wave of arrests.

A campaign #FREEBASSEL has been launched online to bring home the Internet volunteer who is the project leader for open-source web software called Aiki Framework, a Web-based content management system.

Khartabil, a 31-year-old Palestinian-Syrian, is well known in online technical communities as a dedicated volunteer for Internet projects like the Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, and Wikipedia, according to the campaign which is asking sympathizers to sign an online letter for his release. He is also known as Bassel Safadi.

Khartabil has been unjustly detained for nearly four months without trial or any legal charges being brought against him, it said on its website. "We, the signees of the #FREEBASSEL campaign, demand immediate information regarding his detention, health, and psychological state," it added. The campaign also urged the Syrian government "to release the community member, husband-to-be, son to a mother and father, and celebrated International software engineer."

Mozilla asked people to sign the online petition. "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," Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, said in a blog post on Thursday. Through his efforts, the quality and availability of freely available and open technology is improved and technology is advanced, she added.

The Creative Commons, the creator of a new category of copyright licenses and tools, has also asked people to sign the letter.

On Twitter, people are sending messages of support for the developer using the #freebassel hashtag. A campaign has also started on Facebook.

The Syrian government could not be immediately contacted for comment. Fighting between the regime and rebels in the country has led to a large civilian death toll and many arrests, according to reports.

Whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks on Thursday released the Syria Files, a database of over 2.4 million emails to and from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, from August 2006 to March 2012, which purportedly, among other things, "shine a light on the inner workings of the Syrian government and economy."

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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