As a particularly outspoken person, who now primarily uses the Internet to communicate her ideas and strong opinions, there are some days I'm especially, incredibly grateful to be living in America. This is one of those days.
News broke this week that a High State Security court in Damascus, Syria sentenced a 19-year-old female blogger named Tal al-Mallohi to five years in prison for spying on another country, according to Syrian officials. al-Mallohi has been held in prison since she was arrested in December 2009. On Monday, the court found her guilty of "revealing information to a foreign country." The court hearing was completely private.
The BBC reported details on the closed court session:
Lawyers allowed into the closed session of the court in Damascus said Ms Mallohi was motionless after hearing her sentence. Her mother, who was waiting outside the court building, burst out crying after being told. The judge did not give evidence or details as to why she was convicted, they added. However, when she was charged, one official claimed that "her spying led to an attack against a Syrian army officer."
Okay, I understand that actually sharing secure info with a foreign country is considered treason, so it would be one thing if al-Mallohi actually committed that crime. But Syrian activists say the truth is that she was likely detained over a POEM she wrote, which criticized restrictions on freedom of expression in Syria. How disturbingly ironic! Other sources say she had written social commentary about the suffering of Palestinians. How the opinions and artistic expression of one teen blogger led to an attack against a Syrian army officer just doesn't seem to add up.
Thankfully, numerous human rights groups have had their eye on the situation and are trying to do what they can to help al-Mallohi. Back in September, Human Rights Watch called for her to be released, and Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle Eastern director of the organization, was quoted as saying:
Detaining a high school student for nine months without charge is typical of the cruel, arbitrary behavior of Syria's security services. A government that thinks it can get away with trampling the rights of its citizens has lost all connections to its people.
Clearly, that's the least there is to say about the Syrian government. al-Mallohi was in her last year of high school when she was arrested, and it just boggles my mind that the girl has had to sit in prison for over a year before being tried ... behind closed doors! If the court session was going to be so absolutely undemocratic, why didn't they just get it over with back in early 2010? It seems like what they're doing to this girl is one step behind torture. What's more, it seems Syria is oblivious to the recent lessons of Tunisia and Egypt -- social media and blogging have played a huge part in bolstering those countries' protests.
I wonder just how long the Syrian government thinks they'll be able to silence citizens' dissent ... especially if it should spread like wildfire over the web.
What do you think about the teen blogger's arrest?
Image via Uriel Sinai/Getty