February 18, 2011

His Excellency Bashar al-Assad
Presidential Palace
al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 332 3410

Major Sa’id Mohamed Samour
Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
‘Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 222 3428

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our extreme alarm regarding the sentence handed down to blogger, poet, high school student, and PEN American Center Honorary Member Tal Al-Mallouhi.

According to our information, Al-Mallouhi appeared before Damascus State Security Court in a closed session on February 14, 2011, where she was convicted of “divulging information to a foreign state” and sentenced to five years in prison. The court did not disclose any evidence or details of the reason behind this verdict. It is widely believed that she has been targeted for her online poems and writings on political and social issues. The State Security Court’s verdict is final, and there is no possibility of appeal. Al-Mallouhi has no known political affiliations, and sources close to the family are baffled by the charges.

Al-Mallouhi was arrested on December 27, 2009, after being summoned for questioning about her blog entries. After her arrest, state security officers raided Tal Al-Mallouhi’s family home and confiscated her computer, notebook, and other personal documents. She was held incommunicado at an undisclosed location without charge or access to her family for the first nine months of her detention. Her family was allowed to visit her once at Doma Prison in Damascus on September 30, 2010.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that Tal Al-Mallouhi has been sentenced for exercising her right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a party. We therefore call for her immediate and unconditional release, as well as solid assurances that she will have full access to family visits and any necessary medical care while she is imprisoned.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                                              
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee           
Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: His Excellency Walid al-Mua’llim
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Abu Rummaneh
al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 332 7620

Ambassador Imad Moustapha
Embassy of Syria
2215 Wyoming Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 265-4585

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