Syria Sentences Teen Blogger to 5 Years Prison

Facebook page of a group calling for the release of 19-year-old blogger Tal al-Mallohi, held in Syria for alleged spying.
Facebook page of a group calling for the release of 19-year-old blogger Tal al-Mallohi, convicted in Syria of spying.

This story was filed by CBS News' George Baghdadi in Damascus.

A 19-year-old Syrian blogger has been sentenced to five years in prison on charges of spying for a foreign country.

Tal al-Mallohi was brought into a special court -- off limits to the public -- chained and blindfolded to hear the verdict in a case which has sparked outcry and calls for her immediate release from Washington and human rights groups.

A high school student whose blog focused primarily on social commentary and the suffering of the Palestinians, Mallohi has been seen only twice by her family since she was jailed in December 2009 by Syria's security forces without any charge.

Syria's Higher State Security Court issued the sentence on Monday at the end of the secret trial, convicting her of "divulging information to a foreign country that should be kept secret," according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Mallohi, a former government minister's granddaughter, remained motionless and silent as she heard the sentence, SOHR told CBS News. Her mother, who was waiting in the courtyard, burst into tears after learning her daughter's fate, according to a lawyer who took part in the proceedings.

SOHR, which condemned the sentence and appealed for the immediate release of all political prisoners, did not identify the country referred to in the sentence. A Syrian source told CBS News in October, however, that she was accused of spying for the United States -- and her actions allegedly led to an attack against a Syrian army officer in Cairo.

Syria Accuses Teen Blogger of Spying

"We call upon the government to abolish all kinds of military and security courts, in particular the State Security's, and we renew our calls for the closure of the file of political detention and the unconditional return of Syrians living abroad," said a statement which SOHR emailed Wednesday to CBS News.

There has been no official Syrian response to Mallohi's sentence yet.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley sharply criticized Syria's handling of the case. He rejected what he called "baseless allegations of American connections that have resulted in a spurious accusation of espionage." Crowley called on Syria's government to release all prisoners of conscience and allow citizens to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.

New York-based Human Rights Watch last year quoted al-Mallohi's parents as saying she does not belong to any political group. Some Syrian activists have expressed concern that security services may have detained her over a poem she wrote criticizing certain restrictions on freedom of expression in Syria.

The Internet is a rare outlet for the expression of independent views in Syria, despite surveillance and bans on numerous sites. The government last week allowed Syrians to log directly onto Facebook and YouTube for the first time in three years, without going through proxy servers abroad to bypass censorship.

The surprise move followed a failed attempt to rally thousands for a "day of anger" protest against the Syrian government in Damascus -- a call by opposition leaders to mirror events seen in Tunisia and Egypt.