DAMASCUS (Reuters) - A special Syrian security court sentenced a teenaged blogger on Monday to five years in jail on charges of revealing information to a foreign country, despite U.S. calls to release her, rights defenders said.
The long jail term for high school student Tal al-Molouhi, under arrest since 2009 and now 19 years old, is another sign of an intensifying crackdown on opposition in Syria in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, they said.
Molouhi had written articles on the Internet saying she yearned for a role in shaping the future of Syria, which has been under the control of the Baath Party for the last 50 years.
She also asked U.S. President Barack Obama to do more to support the Palestinian cause. A security court charged her several months ago with “revealing information that should remain hushed to a foreign country”.
Wearing trousers and a cream coloured wool hat, Molouhi was brought chained and blindfolded under heavy security on Monday to the court, which convenes at a cordoned section of the Palace of Justice in the centre of the Syrian capital.
Molouhi was motionless after hearing the sentence and said nothing. Her mother, who was waiting in the courtyard, burst out crying after being told the sentence.
Lawyers, the only ones allowed in the closed session, said the judge — there are no prosecutors in the special court — did not give evidence or details as to why Molouhi was charged.
“Trumping up charges that imply treason as a lesson for others is quite old fashioned,” said a rights defender who has followed the case, asking not to be identified.
“Sadly, the regime has not learnt any lessons from Tunisia or Egypt,” the rights defender said, referring to upheaval that brought down the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders in recent weeks.
The U.S. State Department said last week that Molouhi should be released because allegations of U.S. espionage connections were baseless and Syrian citizens were entitled to universal rights of free expression.
Molouhi’s mother, who saw her only twice since she was arrested, wrote a letter to President Bashar al-Assad last year imploring him to release her daughter, saying Molouhi had dabbled in politics without understanding it.
There was no comment from Syrian officials. Officials have previously said that political prisoners in Syria violated the constitution, which was amended in the 1970s to make the Baath Party “leader of the state and society”.
Molouhi’s arrest stirred a storm in the Arab blogosphere, with numerous postings lambasting what was called indiscriminate repression in Syria.
The Internet is a rare outlet for the expression of independent views in Syria, despite surveillance and bans on numerous sites. Several Syrian bloggers and writers have been arrested and sentenced to jail.
Harsher terms were handed out this year as mass protests helped by the Internet spread in the Arab Middle East.
The security court last month sentenced Abbas Abbas, an 69-year old leftist, to seven years in jail, while a 75-year old Islamist who called through the Internet for Egypt-like mass protests was also arrested.
The Syrian state has a long history of jailing political leaders. Leading opposition figure Riad al-Turk spent 25 years in prison, including more than 17 years in solitary confinement.
Eighty year-old Haitham al-Maleh, a former judged who criticised corruption, is serving a three year sentence, having spent seven years as a political prisoner in the 1980s.