(AFP) – Feb 14, 2011
NICOSIA — Syrian woman blogger Tal al-Mallouhi has been sentenced to five years in prison by a state security court, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement on Monday.
"The state security court in Damascus today condemned blogger Tal al-Mallouhi to five years in prison after finding her guilty of divulging information to a foreign country," it said in a statement received in Nicosia.
In October, Syria's Al-Watan newspaper reported that the authorities were accusing Mallouhi, a 19-year-old high school student, of spying for the US embassy in Egypt.
The charge was denied by Washington, which on Saturday called for her "immediate release" and condemned what it called her "secret trial."
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement that Washington "rejects as baseless allegations of American connections that have resulted in a spurious accusation of espionage.
"We call on the Syrian government to immediately release all its prisoners of conscience; and allow its citizens freedom to exercise their universal rights of expression and association without fear of retribution from their own government," he added.
Three Syrian rights groups said in late November that Mallouhi "was interviewed on November 10 by the High Court for State Security and then returned to her women's prison in Duma, near Damascus."
The statement expressing "extreme concern" was signed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights and the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria.
Mallouhi, granddaughter of a former minister under the late Hafez al-Assad, father of current President Bashar al-Assad, had been "held incommunicado without charge for nine months," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in September.
She was first detained in late December 2009, the US-based group said.
Mallouhi's home computer, CDs and books were seized by security services, HRW said, although her blog, which contains poetry and social commentary, focuses mostly on the plight of the Palestinians and does not address Syrian politics.
Social networking websites and blogs helped to launch and sustain the recent popular revolts that brought down Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Web users users in Syria reported that direct access to Facebook and YouTube, blocked since 2007, was reinstated on Wednesday.
Al-Watan, a newspaper close to the government, quoted analysts as saying that the removal of firewalls blocking Facebook and YouTube demonstrated "the government's confidence in its performance and that the state did not fear any threat coming from these two sites nor others."
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