|Governments are clamping down as the internet helps mass protests spread through the Middle East [GALLO/GETTY]
A Syrian court has sentenced a teenage blogger to five years in prison on charges of spying for a foreign country.
Tal al-Mallouhi was 17 when she was arrested in 2009 and has been held by authorites for the past two years.
Human rights groups said her long jail term was another sign of an intensifying crackdown on opposition in Syria, in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.
Al-Mallouhi had written articles on her blog saying she yearned to play a role in shaping the future of Syria, which has been under the control of the Baath Party for the last 50 years.
She had also asked Barack Obama, the US president, to do more to support the Palestinian cause.
It was not clear whether her arrest was connected to the blog, but a security court charged her several months ago with “revealing information that should remain hushed to a foreign country”.
Syria’s Higher State Security Court issued Monday’s sentence at the end of a trial held behind closed doors, an official close to the court told the Associated Press news agency.
The official, speaking anonymously, did not identify the country al-Mallouhi was accused of spying for nor did he give any other details.
He said al-Mallouhi “deserved 15 years in prison but her sentence was commuted considering her age”.
Lawyers taking part in the closed session said the judge did not give evidence or details as to why she was charged. There are no prosecutors present in the special court.
In October, a Syrian official in said al-Mallouhi’s alleged spying had led to an attack against a Syrian army officer by agents of the foreign country she was spying for.
Syria’s private Al-Watan newspaper alleged in October that al-Mallouhi had spied for the US embassy in Cairo, triggering a November 2009 assassination attempt against a Syrian security officer on a Cairo street. The attack left the officer disabled.
There was no official Syrian comment on the newspaper’s report.
On Saturday, Washington condemned Syria for the secret trial and appealed for al-Mallouhi’s immediate release.
PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, sharply criticised Syria’s handling of the case, rejecting what he called “baseless allegations of American connections that have resulted in a spurious accusation of espionage”.
Syrian authorities routinely crack down on political activists, putting them on trial on suspicion of engaging in anti-government activities.
Last year, Human Rights Watch quoted al-Mallouhi’s parents as saying she did not belong to any political group.
Some Syrian activists have expressed concern that security services may have detained her over a poem she wrote criticising certain restrictions on freedom of expression in Syria.
Mallouhi’s arrest stirred a storm in the Arab blogosphere, with numerous postings lambasting what was called indiscriminate repression in Syria.
The internet is a rare outlet for the expression of independent views in Syria, despite surveillance and bans on numerous sites.
Several Syrian bloggers and writers are often arrested and sentenced to jail.
Harsher terms were handed out this year as mass protests aided by the internet spread in the Middle East.