US calls on Syria to release young blogger
The United States condemned on Saturday what it said was Syria's "secret trial" of a young blogger and called for her immediate release, saying allegations of U.S. espionage connections were baseless.
"The United States strongly condemns Syria's secret trial of blogger Tal al-Molouhi," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement, saying baseless allegations of U.S. connections had resulted "in a spurious accusation of espionage."
"We call on the Syrian government to immediately release all its prisoners of conscience; and allow its citizens freedom to exercise their universal rights of expression and association without fear of retribution from their own government," he said.
Molouhi, then a high-school student, was arrested in 2009 and her computer was confiscated.
Her blogs included poems and articles supporting the Palestinian cause and criticizing the Partnership for the Mediterranean, a French diplomatic initiative bringing together Arab and European countries, as well as Israel.
Molouhi's arrest stirred a storm in the Arab blogosphere, with numerous postings lambasting what was called indiscriminate repression in Syria.
The United States returned its ambassador to Syria last month after a six-year hiatus just as tensions are growing again over neighboring Lebanon, where Damascus ally Hezbollah has gained the upper hand in a political crisis.
Relations were downgraded in 2005 due to U.S. suspicions of Syrian involvement in the assassination of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq al-Hariri, and U.S. sanctions remain in place on Syria for supporting Hezbollah and other militant groups.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has emphasized the value of Internet freedoms, and has criticized countries for controls they impose on their citizen's online activities.
Clinton is due to deliver what the State Department is calling a "major speech" on Internet freedom on Tuesday.
The Internet has become a major outlet for the expression of independent views in in Syria, where political opposition has been banned and emergency law in place since the Baath party took power in 1963.
But several Syrian bloggers and writers have been arrested, with some sentenced to long terms, while Internet users said the government appeared to tighten controls amid widespread use of social media like Facebook and Twitter to fuel popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.
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