This week Syria has officially charged Tal al-Mallohi with spying. This wouldn’t be all that strange, as real and imagined cases of espionage are not at all rare in the city of jasmine. What makes this case stand out is more about who Tal al-Mallohi is, what exactly has brought on these charges, and the manner in which the Syrian government has handled the case.
Tal al-Mallohi is a 19 year-old FEMALE high school student. Facts remain unclear, but until this week, it seemed that Ms. Mallohi was being detained for writing a blog–one that mostly focuses on the always dangerous topics of poetry and Palestinian suffering. Worst of all, Ms. Mallohi has been imprisoned without charge for the past 9-months without access to legal counsel or her family. The Al-Mallohi family was allowed to see the detained girl late last month for the first time since her arrest in December of 2009.
According to the AP, Ms. Al-Mallohi has been accused of spying for none other than the US Embassy in Cairo. Syrian officials claim her actions led to a street attack on a member of the Syrian security services working in Cairo, causing him permanent physical injuries.
Until this week the case had been seen purely as a human rights issue relating to Ms. Al-Mallohi’s captivity, as Human Rights Watch called international attention to her detention last month as part of a campaign to secure her immediate release. Many saw this as a clearly defined case of Syria locking up someone for “crossing a red line”–local terminology for speaking one’s mind on sensitive issues. Human Rights Watch claims that a specific poem, which is critical of restrictions on the freedom of expression, is to blame for her arrest.
These new charges do call that narrative into question, as Ms. Al-Mallohi’s blog largely stayed away from thin ice such as political discussions, or criticism of the Assad regime. And while the detention of human rights crusaders, political activists, and progressive leaning lawyers fits the Syrian government’s pattern of targeted repression, a school age girl writing about poetry and Palestinians doesn’t.
Some feel the charges are an attempt by the government to deflect and undermine calls for Al-Mallohi’s release.
Regardless of whether the charges are legitimate, or simply a ruse aimed at maintaining certain “red lines” within Syrian society, the dominant issue is the manner in which Ms. Mallohi has been detained. To hold anyone against their will, removed from legal representation and familial contact for 9 months is simply unacceptable.
While Ms. Mallohi is apparently in good health despite her ordeal, many in Syria are not so lucky. Amnesty International has officially documented 38 different types of torture used by the Syrian regime, with reported cases numbering in the hundreds. The Arab world has been outraged, rightly in my view, by the use of torture and prolonged incarceration at Guantanamo Bay. Tal al-Mallohi and the many other detained in Syria under questionable charges, or no charges at all, deserve the same outrage. The fact that people are, in effect, still being disappeared in Syria is shameful and leads this blogger to question whether anything approaching the rule of law will ever be implemented here.