Syrian blogger Tal al-Mallouhi has been sentenced to five years in prison after a secret trial when a state security court found her guilty of divulging information to a foreign country. The 20-year-old high school student was accused of spying for the United States, "a baseless allegation that resulted in a spurious accusation of espionage," as clearly stated by U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. The United States strongly condemns Syria's secret trial and sentencing of Ms. al-Mallouhi and calls for her immediate release.
Ms. al-Mallouhi was first detained on December 27, 2009. Members of the Syrian state security went to her house and confiscated her computer, some CDs, books, and other personal belongings. Her family and lawyers have had extremely limited contact with her since her arrest. Ms. al-Mallouhi had a popular blog, where she posted poetry and social commentary, dealing with the conditions of the Palestinian people.
According to the latest State Department human rights report, the human rights situation in Syria continues to worsen. The government systematically represses citizens' abilities to change their government. In a climate of impunity, there continue to be instances of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life and liberty. Members of the security forces torture and physically abuse prisoners and detainees. Security forces arrest and detain individuals -- including activists, organizers, and other regime critics -- without due process. Lengthy pretrial and incommunicado detention remains a serious problem.
The government violates citizens' privacy rights and imposes significant restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and travel.
The secret trial and conviction of Tal al-Mallouhi is clearly part of an overall abysmal human rights situation in Syria. It is important to note that only a government that fears its people and ignores the rule of law needs to restrict its citizen's universal rights to free speech and association.
Only a government of fear sentences a 20-year-old blogger to five years imprisonment only days after lifting restrictions on blogging and other social media web sites.
The United States calls on the Syrian authorities to show that they genuinely respect the rights of the people and immediately release Ms. al-Mallouhi and all other prisoners of conscience. The people of Syria deserve freedom to exercise their universal rights of expression and association without fear of retribution from their own government.