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OPC Protests Syrian Blogger’s Jailing
H.E. Bashar al-Assad
Abu Rummaneh, Al-Rashid Street
Syrian Arab Republic
We are writing on behalf of the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC), an organization of journalists that has been defending the freedom of the press around the world for more than seven decades, to protest the persecution of journalists and bloggers in Syria. We refer in particular to the recent sentencing of a young blogger, Tal al-Mallouhi, to five years in jail.
Ms.al-Mallouhi was a 19-year-old high school girl when she was arrested in December, 2009. She has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location ever since. Lawyers admitted to her closed trial in February said no specific evidence was presented, although earlier, an official claimed her spying had led to an attack on a Syrian officer.
Was she accused of spying for the United States because she had written an open letter to President Obama urging a change in American policy towards to Palestine and Israel? Was she convicted because her blog consisted of poems and articles mainly about Palestinian rights? These hardly seem a danger to the state. In any case, sentencing a young school girl to five years in jail for expressing her opinions is wrong.
The heartless treatment of Ms. al-Mallouhi follows on earlier abuses of Syrian writers, notably the continued detention of the journalist and writer, Ali al-Abdullah, whose 30-month jail sentence ended last June. But earlier this month, he was charged with new crimes based on an article he had posted while still in jail. He faces sentencing on March 13. In the meantime, another Syrian blogger, Ahmad Abu al-Kheir was arrested a week ago. Still another has begun a hunger strike in jail. Nothing has been heard of three others in jail.
In view of the cosmic changes taking place in the Arab world, it would seem extremely dangerous to continue to persecute Syrians who express their opinions. Censorship and repression simply will no longer work. Even your own Telecom minister, Imad Saboni, seems to recognize this, albeit cautiously. He is reported to have said in a lecture at Tishreen University that blocking websites does not work.
Mr. President, the persecution of journalists and bloggers in Syria has made your country one of the most notorious violators of freedom of expression in the world. You have already received many strong protests from human rights organizations all over the world, and from many governments, including the government of the United States. The Overseas Press Club of America adds its heartfelt protest.
Freedom of the Press Committee
H.E. Imad Moustapha
Ambassador of Syria to the U.S.A.
Embassy of Syrian Arab Republic
2215 Wyoming Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 234.9548
Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari
Permanent Mission of Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations
820 Second Avenue, 15th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 983.4439
H.E. Robert S. Ford
U.S. Ambassador to Syria
Embassy of the United States of America
Abou Roumaneh, 2 Al Mansour Street
P.O. Box 29
Mr. Gamal Eid
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information