Syria blogger Tal al-Mallohi 'convicted of spying'

Tal al-Mallohi (file) Tal al-Mallohi, 19, has been held without charge since December 2009

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A state security court in Syria has sentenced a teenaged blogger to five years in prison for spying, human rights groups say.

The court in Damascus found 19-year-old Tal al-Mallohi guilty of "revealing information to a foreign country".

Ms Mallohi's blog contained poetry and social commentary that focused mostly on the suffering of Palestinians.

State media reported she was working for the US, which Washington denied, demanding her release.

Last week, the state department said Syrian citizens were entitled to the universal rights of freedom of opinion and expression.

'Trumped-up charges'

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".

"Trumping up charges that imply treason as a lesson for others is quite old fashioned," one human rights activist told the Reuters news agency. "Sadly, the regime has not learnt any lessons from Tunisia or Egypt."

There has so far been no comment from the Syrian authorities.

Ms Mallohi, the granddaughter of a former minister, has already served one year of her sentence, as she has been in custody since late December 2009. She was held without charge for the first nine months.

Last month, the state security court sentenced Abbas Abbas, a 69-year-old left-wing activist, to seven years in jail.

The BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus says Ms Mallohi's conviction comes at a time of political upheaval in the region, with popular protests in Tunisia and Egypt which were largely organised through social networking websites and blogs.

Syria has recently lifted its ban on Facebook and YouTube, which had been blocked since 2007. But many websites are still unavailable and the internet is still closely watched by the authorities here, she adds.

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