A Syrian teenager has been jailed for five years for 'divulging information to a foreign country' in a public blog post.
The Syrian authorities, which are said to have conducted the trial behind a veil of secrecy, say that 19-year-old student Tal al-Mallouhi was spying for the American Embassy in Egypt.
Washington has denied the accusation. According to news agency AFP, US sources claim that baseless allegations about the teenager's American connections had resulted in a 'spurious' accusation of espionage. It has called for the blogger to be released at once.
"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," barked State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.
The sentence was reported by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which says that Mallouhi, who is the granddaughter of a former government minister under a previous regime, has been held 'incommunicado and without charge' for nine months.
Despite having recently reinstated access to the likes of Facebook and Youtube, Syria has a history of blocking free access to the Internet and suppressing free speech.
We can't help but wonder if international news of Mallouhi's incarceration might be the catalyst for an Egypt or Tunisia-style Internet uprising in the military-dominated Arab Republic, which borders Turkey, Iraq Jordan and Israel..