Bassel Safadi Khartabil, the Internet guru who opened up the online world to plight of the Syrian people, was abducted by the Assad regime in March 2012 and taken to Adra prison in Damascus. A few months later he disappeared.
Until a few days ago, Bassel’s family lived in hope that they would see him again. Now they know that they will not. His parents are consumed with grief. His wife, the lawyer and human rights activist Noura Ghazi, is a widow.
They now know that after months of torture, Bassel was executed by the regime in 2015, as a global campaign to release him gathered strength.
The world found out about Bassel’s torture and death in the way it has always found out about the half a million killed, the arrest of thousands, the disappearance of more than 100,000 and the displacement of millions.
This is almost a textbook definition of injustice, and it is why Carla Del Ponte has resigned from the UN commission of inquiry into Syria after five fruitless years trying to prosecute Syria’s war criminals. “I am frustrated, I give up,” she said.
Del Ponte says obstruction in the UN Security Council means there can never be an indictment, and in any case Syria has deteriorated to the extent that one side is as guilty as the other. There is no support or political will to achieve justice for Syria, she says.
It is no coincidence that her resignation comes at the same time as demands grow for political dialogue with Bashar Assad that may help him to stay in power.
While Bashar Assad cynically releases militants from his jails and then uses their violence to justify his oppression, it is innocent victims who pay the price.
It is true that the Syrian situation is not easy, but we always find ourselves returning to square one, which is the existence of an unjust regime that oppresses its people through imprisonment and torture, which led to the uprising in the first place. The regime has escalated its methods, using the most horrific means to suppress the revolution and turn it into an international sectarian conflict. “Either Assad remains in power, or we will burn the country,” his supporters have said repeatedly. Now that is what is literally happening.
The irony is that while the regime jails, tortures and kills peaceful activists, young men and women, it deals differently with another group of prisoners, the Islamist opposition. Many of those who now lead extremist groups in Syria and Iraq were previously in Syrian prisons. Some were released after a pardon by the regime in 2011, others set free in deals between the regime and armed factions during the course of the conflict in the past few years.
These deals are part of the regime’s tactics. For example, battles between Hezbollah and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS) militants in the barren areas near the Lebanese border ended after a deal to exchange prisoners and allow militants to travel to opposition-held Idlib. Among those who traveled was the JFS leader Abu Malek Al-Talli — a former prisoner released in 2011.
This has been Assad’s cynical strategy from Day 1: Release the hard-liners, and then tell Syrians: “You have no other choice, it is either me or the hard-liners.” There is no such deal available to Bassel Safadi and those like him: They are imprisoned, tortured and killed. While international leaders turn a blind eye to these atrocities, there will be no justice for Syria.