Amnesty International is demanding the release of a 19-year-old blogger and student who has been detained in Syria without charge or access to the outside world since the end of last year.
Amnesty say that the woman, Tal al-Mallohi, was detained by Syria’s notorious State Security in the capital Damascus on 27 December, after being summoned there for questioning. Two days later, State Security officers visited Tal al-Mallohi’s family home in Homs, 100 miles north of Damascus, and confiscated her computer, some computer disks, notebooks and a mobile phone.
The NGO reportst that since 27 December, none of her family has been allowed to see her. The family’s visits to the State Security detention centre have been met with vague assurances of her wellbeing but no information as to why she is being held. There are fears that - like many other prisoners held in Syria - Tal al-Mallohi is at high risk of torture.
Human rights defenders, government critics and advocates of political reform in Syria face constant harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, though Tal al-Mallohi’s family insist she has no political affiliations.
The family suspect her detention may be related to poems and articles published on her blog - http://talmallohi.blogspot.com - as some of these contain references to Syria’s restrictions on freedom of expression.
“This is a deeply disturbing case," said Amnesty International's UK Director, Kate Allen, "No-one should be detained just for discussing freedom of expression and if this is why Tal al-Mallohi is behind bars then it’s an absolute disgrace".
Allen urged the Syrian authorities to release Tal al-Mallohi or charge her with a recognisable criminal offence.
She added, “To have been held so long in incommunicado detention in Syria, where torture and other ill-treatment is widespread, is doubly troubling. Her family and lawyer should also be granted immediate permission to see her."
Tal al-Mallohi’s family has spent the last nine months attempting to find out why she is being held and to gain access to her. In addition to many frustrated attempts to see her at the Damascus detention centre, the family has submitted three written visitation requests to State Security and has sent two internet appeals to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad urging him to intervene for her release.
As far as Amnesty is aware, no response has been made to these requests or appeals.
Tal al-Mallohi’s mother has told Amnesty of her deep concern, saying: “I’m going crazy. I have had chronic insomnia since my daughter’s arrest. I survive on sleeping pills".
After one fruitless attempt to see Tal al-Mallohi at the detention centre her mother - who was in a distressed state - was hit by a car outside the building and suffered serious injuries which hospitalised her for two months.
In addition, Allen explained, “Tal al-Mallohi is frail and already suffers from abnormally accelerated heart rate (Tachycardia), and there are real concerns for her health. At the very least she must be allowed the medical treatment she needs.”
There are severe restrictions on freedom of expression in Syria and in recent years there have been several cases of people being jailed for their online publications and related activities.
These include Karim Arabji, a blogger who was jailed for three years for moderating an internet youth forum. He was later released under an amnesty. Seven men were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for their part in developing an online youth discussion group and publishing online articles advocating democratic reform. Their convictions relied on 'confessions' that the men insist were extracted under torture.
Amnesty has previously documented 38 different types of torture and ill-treatment used against detainees in Syria and the organisation has received hundreds of reports of detainees being tortured.