Rights watchdog urges Syria to free teen blogger

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Human Rights Watch has called on the Syrian authorities to immediately release a 19-year-old schoolgirl held incommunicado for nine months, apparently over the contents of her blog.

One of Syria's multiple state security agencies summoned Tal al-Mallohi for interrogation last December 27 and immediately detained her, the New York-based watchdog said.

Two days later, security officers went to Mallohi's house and confiscated her computer, some CDs, books and other belongings.

Since her arrest, Mallohi's family has not been allowed contact with her and no explanation has been offered for her arrest, the watchdog added.

"Detaining a high school student for nine months without charge is typical of the cruel, arbitrary behaviour of Syria's security services," HRW's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said.

Some Syrian activists have expressed concern that security services may have detained Mallohi over a poem she wrote criticising restrictions on freedom of expression in Syria.

Her blog, which contains poetry and social commentary, focuses mostly on the plight of the Palestinians and does not address Syrian politics, HRW said.

Several Syrian rights groups have issued a joint statement expressing deep concern at what they called "the disappearance through force of several Syrians in recent times."

One case concerns Ismail Abdi, a human rights activist whose whereabouts have been unknown since his arrest at Aleppo airport on August 23.

Abdi, who also holds German nationality, had been visiting his native Syria when he went missing, said the statement signed by three groups including the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

They urged the Damascus government "to reveal immediately the fate and place of detention of Abdi and Mallohi, or to refer them to court... for a fair trial."

Such arrests, they said, are "a crime against dignity and a violation of basic rights and liberties."

Earlier this month the eldest daughter of Abdi -- a father of three who heads the German branch of the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria -- published a list of 600 people arrested or tortured in Syria.

"We haven't had any word from him since" his arrest, 20-year-old Farah said on September 10 in Germany, adding that her father suffers from asthma and did not have his medication.

The German foreign ministry has said it has been in touch with Syria to try to clarify his situation.

© 2010 AFP

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