Syria must prove jailed blogger is alive, well

New York, June 23, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information today called on the Syrian government to produce immediate evidence showing that unjustly imprisoned blogger Tal al-Mallohi is alive and well. The demand follows several recent news reports saying that al-Mallohi died in a Syrian prison a month ago. 

“The Syrian government has repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for the well-being of detained journalists, a practice that has worsened over the past three months,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “Damascus must immediately provide concrete evidence that Tal al-Mallohi–who shouldn’t be in prison in the first place–has not been harmed in custody.” 

Al-Mallohi, 20, was detained in December 2009 after she was summoned for questioning by security officials. She was held in extrajudicial detention for close to a year in relation to her online writings. The High State Security Court in Damascus, a special tribunal established under Syria’s Emergency Law, sentenced al-Mallohi in February to five years in prison on a fabricated charge of “disclosing information to a foreign country that must remain a secret for national safety.”

Al-Mallohi’s blog was devoted to Palestinian rights and was critical of Israeli policies. It also discussed the frustrations of Arab citizens with their governments and what she perceived to be the stagnation of the Arab world.

“We have always maintained that extraordinary tribunals are no place to try a blogger for exercising her right to free expression,” said Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. “At this point, the Syrian government must provide tangible proof that Tal al-Mallohi is in good health.”

Reports questioning whether al-Mallohi is alive emerged after Khalid al-Khalaf, a human rights defender, told the Egyptian daily Al-Shorouk that a “sympathetic Syrian judge” had said the blogger had died in prison. Al-Khalaf did not name the judge.

Al-Mallohi’s case has gained widespread attention on the Arab blogosphere, on social networks, and among human rights activists worldwide. In September, Egyptian activists organized a protest in front of the Syrian Embassy in Cairo calling for al-Mallohi’s release. The protestors tried unsuccessfully to deliver a letter to President Bashar al-Assad through Syria’s ambassador in Cairo. The letter appears on ANHRI’s website. Around the same time, CPJ sent a letter to al-Assad protesting al-Mallohi’s detention.

A delegation from CPJ and Reporters Without Borders raised al-Mallohi’s case in a meeting today with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The meeting, which had been previously scheduled, focused primarily on press issues in the Middle East and freedom of expression online.