Syrian blogger sentenced to five years in prison

New York, February 15, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentencing of blogger Tal al-Mallohi on Monday to five years in prison on state security charges and calls on Syrian authorities to release her immediately. Al-Mallohi, 20, was detained in 2009 and held in extrajudicial detention for close to a year, according to news reports and local press freedom groups.

The High State Security Court in Damascus, a special court established in accordance with  Syria’s Emergency Law, sentenced al-Mallohi in a closed-door trial to five years in prison for “disclosing information to a foreign country that must remain a secret for national safety,” according to news reports. The Emergency Law has been in place since 1963 and suspends many political and civil rights, and grants the government sweeping powers that allow it to detain individuals for extended periods and to try them in military courts.

Al-Mallohi was detained in December 2009 after she was summoned for questioning by the state security apparatus. Two days later, security forces searched her home and confiscated her computer, according to news reports. On her blog she wrote poems and articles about Palestinian rights and the aftermath of 2008 Israeli military operations in Gaza. It was not clear whether al-Mallohi’s arrest was connected to the blog, according to The Associated Press.

The BBC reported that lawyers allowed into the closed court session said the judge “did not give evidence or details as to why she was convicted.” When she was charged, according to the BBC, an official claimed that “her spying led to an attack against a Syrian army officer.”

“We call on the Syrian authorities to release Tal al-Mallohi immediately,” Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator said. “It is inconceivable that the Syrian government should hold this young blogger for close to a year without charge, only to finally charge her with disclosing state secrets without even bothering to present evidence to support this implausible claim.”

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley condemned the trial on Saturday in a statement, rejecting what he said were “baseless allegations of American connections that have resulted in a spurious accusation of espionage.”

CPJ sent a letter to Syria’s president in September calling for her release.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Al-Mallohi’s age has been changed to 20 in the first paragraph.