Mozilla, Creative Commons, Wikimedia Foundation announce Bassel Khartabil Free Culture fellowship following execution of open culture activist

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Monday, August 14, 2017

On Friday, several free knowledge, culture and open source oriented organisations — Creative Commons, Mozilla, and the Wikimedia Foundation, amongst others — collectively announced a three-year commitment for a free-culture fellowship to honour Bassel Khartabil's continuing influence on the open web, during the Wikimedia's annual conference Wikimania in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Palestinian-Syrian Khartabil was held in captivity under the Syrian government starting in 2012 and went silent in prison in 2015. Early this month his wife confirmed Khartabil had been executed in 2015.

File photo of Bassel Khartabil, 2009.
Image: Joi (flickr). (CC BY 2.0)

Khartabil worked as a computer engineer and contributed to Mozilla and Wikipedia. A supporter of free access to knowledge and culture, Khartabil co-founded Syria's first hackerspace, Aiki Lab, and led Creative Commons' Syrian project.

The fellowship to honour Khartabil aims to promote free culture in various forms, including art, music, software, and community. On their official blog, Creative Commons said they would encourage applications from the Levant, Middle East, and North Africa.

Amazon Web Services is to act as a supporting partner and the fellows would receive a stipend of US$50 thousand over the course of ten months. The fellowship is to be awarded on a one-year basis, which could be renewed. Additionally, the organisations are to provide up to US$3000 for the candidates to purchase equipment and software.

Promoting candidates from "closed societies" from the countries with a history of oppression of freedom of expression and access to free knowledge, the fellowship laid three requirements for the eligibility. The applicants must have a history of contribution to the open source/access or free culture communities, and propose in their application an initiative promoting free culture values, and in which the fellowship would be their primary work focus. The fellowship applications are to be accepted from February, and the fellowship is to be awarded in April.

Apart from contributing to Mozilla and Red Hat, Bassel Khartabil developed "Aiki", an open source framework which is currently used by Open Clip Art and Open Font Library. He was listed among Top Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy, and given a Digital Freedom Award by the Index on Censorship.

Khartabil was arrested by the Syrian military in March 2012. Following time in a Syrian General Intelligence Directorate facility, nine months after his arrest he was transferred to Adra Prison, and permitted family visits. He was relocated to an undisclosed facility in October 2015, and executed soon after. His wife, Noura Ghazi Safadi, confirmed Khartabil's death on August 1 via a Facebook post.


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