Red Hat drops support for Free Software Foundation following return of Richard Stallman

The FSF founder has been reappointed to the board two years after he was forced to resign over comments relating to the Jeffrey Epstein case

Red Hat sign at a convention centre in Boston

Red Hat has announced that it has withdrawn its support for the Free Software Foundation (FSF), following a decision by the non-profit to reinstate its founder, Richard Stallman, to its board of directors.

Stallman was forced to resign from the foundation in 2019 following comments he made on the involvement of his MIT colleague, the late Marvin Minsky, in the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking case.

In a statement on its blog, the software company said that it is “appalled to learn that [Stallman] had rejoined the FSF board of directors” and that it would be “immediately suspending all Red Hat funding of the FSF and any FSF-hosted events”.

Red Hat added that many of its contributors had expressed that they would no longer want to take part in events organised or supported by FSF, and that the company has decided to honour their wishes.

Stallman, who had created FSF in 1985 to promote the universal freedom to create, use, distribute software, questioned the validity of allegations against Minsky, who had been accused of having sexual relations with a minor.

In an internal MIT email exchange, Stallman wrote that “it is morally absurd to define 'rape' in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17".

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Despite Stallman vehemently denying allegations that he was condoning the actions of those involved in the case, the emails led to Stallman being asked to resign from the FSF board.

The return of Stallman has caused outrage among many FSF contributors who had not been made aware of the decision until it was public knowledge. FSF board member and tech industry lawyer Kat Walsh stated on Twitter that she “did not support the decision to reinstate [Stallman]”.

“I made my arguments and placed my opposing vote; while I was glad I was able to do that I regret not being able to turn the decision the other way,” she added.

Lyft software engineer Paul Fisher recounted his own experience working for FSF, saying that he had “witnessed misogyny, sexual objectification, and abuse carried out by [Stallman]”.

“Richard Stallman’s return has reopened wounds we had hoped would slowly heal after his departure. We believe that in order to regain the confidence of the broader free software community, the FSF should make fundamental and lasting changes to its governance,” said Red Hat.

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