Bassel Khartabil (aka Safadi) gets a research position at MIT Media Lab

This is the news of the day: our friend Bassel Khartabil, jailed by the Syrian regime since March 2012 (and recently moved to an unknown location) has just been offered a research position with the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab.

Bassel’s latest project, which is about reconstructing the ancient city of Palmyra in 3D, was launched few days ago by a group of friends under the name of “#new Palmyra”. Wired has recently reported about the project and the huge campaign which is growing around the world to protest the arbitrary arrest of Bassel and his condition of being incommunicado since last October 3rd.

Bassel’s family, friends, colleagues, and people around the world who do not know him in person but know him through his work as an advocate for a free and open Internet have been mobilizing since. Love and support for Bassel’s cause are growing faster and faster everywhere in the world and on the web.

And now it’s truly amazing to see how the MIT Media Lab, whose director Joi Ito is a dear friend and former colleague at Creative Commons, are celebrating Bassel’s efforts in advocating for free culture, and in protecting and preserving Syria’s cultural heritage.

We will never forget Bassel and what he did for the Internets, for Syria, and for all of us.

We’re looking forward to seeing you back home, ya Bassel, ya dude.

MuidLatif

(by Muid Latif)

Links:
Petition Online: http://bit.ly/freebassel-petition

Freebassel Campaign: http://www.freebassel.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FreeBasselSafadi
Twitter: @freebassel
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/FreeBassel2013
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/freebassel
Hashtags: #newpalmyra #freebassel #missingbassel

#newpalmyra on Al Arabiyya news today

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WE NEED EVERYBODY’S HELP TO #FREEBASSEL

freebassel_campaign2015

Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, my dear friend from the old days in Damascus and lead of the Creative Commons community in Syria, has been living in a Syrian jail for almost 4 years now. He was arrested in March 2012 without a formal accusation or the right to see a lawyer.

Today we hear from his wife and dear friend Noura Ghazi that Bassel has been moved to an unknown location, probably to be judged by a military court. We do not have any more detail but we really fear for his life.

The more attention we can get on his case on the web, on mainstream media, the better to protect him from any abuse from the regime and secret services side.

Please help us spread awareness, please help us #freebassel

You can find more info here:

https://twitter.com/freebassel

http://freebassel.org/

https://www.facebook.com/FreeBasselSafadi?fref=nf

My farewell to Creative Commons Arab world…

Thank you, Donatella Della Ratta

Jessica Coates, February 18th, 2014

Donatella Della Ratta
Donatella Della Ratta / Joi Ito / CC BY

Creative Commons extends its deepest gratitude to Donatella Della Ratta. For almost six years, she’s been working as a tireless advocate for Creative Commons and open culture in the Arab world, increasing the knowledge and adoption of CC, conducting outreach to creative communities, and connecting activists throughout the region. Dona has done all of this with grace and tenacity in the midst of an oftentimes unpredictable and sometimes unstable political and social environment in much of the Arab world. We thank you, Dona.

Even though Dona is leaving her position as regional coordinator for the Arab world, Creative Commons will continue to support this incredibly important region. We are in the process of bringing on two new part-time regional coordinators, as we’ve done with other geographic areas. Below is a note from Donatella.


On my way back from Amman, where the fourth Arab Bloggers meeting was held this year, I was thinking that it all started here. Back to early 2008, I was lucky enough to breathe an atmosphere of excitement and change that pervaded the Arab region, and encouraged the Arab youth to gather and discuss ideas, projects, new challenges. Technology played a key role in these gatherings: at the time, open communities such as Linux, Wikipedia, Mozilla, and the like, were being formed and getting together. We started the Creative Commons Arab world community during that wave of change, connecting with the other Arab communities which were using technology to create content together, promote social change, defend freedom of choice – and of expression.

We launched the first archive of CC-licensed broadcast footage with Al Jazeera, at a time when the lack of foreign journalists on the ground in Gaza during the Israeli attack had made information a very precious and scarce resource. Since 2008, many things happened in the Arab region. The Creative Commons Arab community has grown exponentially, and many countries have joined: together with Jordan and Egypt, where we had already official affiliates prior to 2008, informal communities started to gather in Lebanon, Syria, Qatar, UAE, Palestine, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Oman, and Mauritania. The latest addition has been Yemen, where few months ago the first training workshop on CC and open licensing was held in Sana`a.

During these years, we have held CC Salons everywhere in the region, from Doha to Casablanca; we have hosted CC Iftars in a number of Arab capitals, from Damascus to Amman. CC Arab communities have gathered in regional meetings four times (2009 Doha; 2010 Doha; 2011 Tunis: 2012 Cairo). We have hosted CC training sessions, panels and hands-on workshops in many regional, tech and community related events. In 2011, we started the first Pan Arab peer-produced and CC-licensed music project, “It will be wonderful”, which is still traveling around the world and being remixed. We produced the first collaborative, open-licensed comics fanzine between Egyptian and Moroccan artists. And many other exciting projects are in the pipeline: books, videos, music, and training toolkits, in Arabic and free to share.

Meanwhile, the Arab uprisings have happened, and this was probably the biggest change that the region witnessed in decades. Today the Arab world lives in difficult conditions: after the first wave of excitement for the toppling of many authoritarian regimes in the region, the civil movement for change has now to face tough challenges. Activists are being jailed and tortured, and creativity and cooperation are being repressed in an atmosphere of dire restoration. One of the most prominent member of the CC Arab world community, Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, has been imprisoned by the Syrian government for two years without charges, probably being guilty of having dreamt a more free and open society for himself and his peers. Yet, against all odds, the Creative Commons Arab world, together with many other youth-led movements and communities in the region, is still producing content, sharing and building on other people`s ideas, and working for a better, more open society.

After five years spent as Arab world regional coordinator, I am proud to have helped this community to come together, and humbled by the strength and energy of this youth. While I am leaving my official role at Creative Commons, I will always be involved with the amazing Arab community and work together to push forward new ideas and exciting projects, despite all the problems we have to face in the region. And we will be waiting for our friend Bassel Safadi to join us in new, upcoming challenges.

The 4th Arab Bloggers meeting

I`m very excited to be joining the upcoming 4th edition of the Arab bloggers meeting in Amman (20-23 January). In the past years, I attended two editions of this amazing gathering of techies and activists from the Region (and wrote about it here and here and here, and  in an academic book still to be published): one in Beirut (2009) and the other one in Tunis (2011).

The Beirut meeting was truly special: it was the first time I attended such a gathering with activists from all across the Arab world. It was exciting. There was a momentum. The Region was filled with enthusiasm, wind of change, energy, excitement for new ways in which technology could eventually have helped social movements to raise and become stronger and stronger. I was living in Damascus at the time, and I had convinced my dear friend Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi to come with me to Beirut and join the meeting. It was his first time with that crowd. Before, he would most likely have joined a geeky crowd, people mostly focused on tech stuff. We enjoyed so much being there. That meeting changed our lives.

Today, two weeks ahead of the Amman meeting, I cannot help thinking about the message that Bassel has sent us from Adra prison in Syria where he has been held for almost two years. I re-publish it here below:

“In 2009, I was honored to have my body and soul with you in Beirut. That meeting taught me a lot and charged me for the next years of civic activism and for the now, with more challenges facing activists, bloggers, and countries. I know for sure that your future is in your hands, and it will be bright since you are still meeting!

I’m honored again to have my soul with you in this meeting while my body is still locked in jail. Which doesn’t matter since we will win the future.”

The Amman meeting is gonna be challenging. We`re gonna be there, and so many of us will be missed, like Bassel, like Alaa, held again by Egyptian authorities.

This is not an easy time for activists, bloggers, human rights believers. Especially in the Arab world. Those who have easily – and too quickly – labelled the uprisings as “Arab Springs” are now changing this definition into “Arab winters”.

Yet, it is not a matter of springs and winters. It is perhaps a matter of seeing change in a broader, long-term perspective. And that`s why we`re gonna be in Amman to talk about mistakes, challenges, upcoming fights. Also for those like Bassel, who cannot be with us; yet, they believe it`s still worth trying.

Lessig on Free Bassel

Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and professor at Harvard Law School, has published on The Wall Street Journal a very touching op-ed for our Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, detained in Syria since March 2012.

Online Artists Share Work—Tyrants Would Prefer They Share a Cell

A Syrian tech wizard is jailed by the Assad regime. His sin? Spreading the word about utilizing the Internet.

By LAWRENCE LESSIG

It has been a decade since lawyers and technologists formed the nonprofit corporation Creative Commons to help artists and authors share their work with each other and the world. Creative Commons offered free copyright licenses, tied to underlying computer code that made it simpler for artists and authors to signal the freedoms they want their creativity to carry to prospective users and the world.

Very quickly, a wide range of creators, including scientists, scholars, educators, musicians, bloggers, photographers and filmmakers began using these licenses to make their works more freely available—legally, and within the protective contours of traditional copyright. The resulting explosion of shared material today includes hundreds of millions of photos on Flickr, tens of thousands of “open access” scholarly articles, thousands of videos on YouTube and Blip.tv, and the heart of all free culture, Wikipedia.

For most of us in the West, this movement has supported a new era of creative excitement and intellectual freedom. In some parts of the world, however, the cost of supporting this movement to share information has been high.

Creative Commons began in the U.S. But very quickly the idea spread globally, adapted in each case to fit the copyright laws and language of specific countries. Thousands of volunteers internationally worked to spread the technology, including code indicating that material is covered by a Creative Commons license and thus free to use and adapt, within specified limits.

Yet as Creative Commons spread, its meaning was morphed by the countries that adopted it. In South America, for instance, Creative Commons was regarded as a victory in the battle between North and South—between the West and the rest, so to speak—over intellectual property rights. Brazil’s minister of culture, the musician Gilberto Gil, embraced Creative Commons as a symbol of the new flexibility that he thought copyright law should have.

 

 

image

CC/Joi Ito

Computer programmer and open-source developer Bassel Khartabil

Throughout the Middle East, Creative Commons has become part of a broader and growing movement for freedom that captured the sense of a people starved for access to culture and truth beyond their own borders. With the connections made possible by the Internet, the licenses opened the door wide to legal sharing of all kinds of material.

In nations with repressive regimes, though, governments have grown suspicious and increasingly wary of so-called free culture. Now one early Creative Commons supporter in Syria may face the ultimate penalty for his work to give Syrians an easier way to share their creative work.

Bassel Khartabil is a 31-year-old computer programmer. He is also a pacifist and the Syrian lead for the Creative Commons project. For more than a decade, he has been working locally to integrate Syria into the online world, going into schools and businesses, for instance, to teach them how to use the new tools of technology, and educating future bloggers and website architects.

Mr. Khartabil has also helped spread freely licensed software and culture throughout the region and in so doing encouraged Syrians to develop critical skills like remixing. The ability to take images and other material and mix them into social commentary—as the Jib Jab videos do in the U.S., for instance—is a free-speech right that Americans take for granted. But in a country like Syria, the ability to do something like juxtapose dubious claims by the country’s leadership with more truthful images from other sources makes remixing an important tool for political dissent.

In late 2012, Foreign Policy named Mr. Khartabil one of this year’s top 100 thinkers. The magazine singled him out for “fostering an open-source community in a country long on the margins of the Internet’s youth culture.”

But Mr. Khartabil wasn’t able to accept that honor. He was arrested in March by Syrian authorities because of his work and has been held—at times in utter isolation—ever since. His family fears the very worst.

Mr. Khartabil isn’t a partisan, aligned with one Syrian faction against another. He represents a future, aligned against a totalitarian past. The Syrian government is fearful of the potential threat to the totalizing control that defines the modern Syrian state. The government thus wants to shut the free-software, free-culture movement down, in a way that only a totalitarian regime can.

Syria won’t win this battle in the long term, just as the regime is unlikely to outlast the insurrection now wracking the country. It, too, will learn that the future cannot be stopped, even if the men and women leading it can be silenced.

Mr. Lessig is a professor at Harvard Law School and a member of the board of Creative Commons.

A version of this article appeared January 8, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Online Artists Share Work—Tyrants Would Prefer They Share a Cell.