Saudi woman gets 34 years for tweets, say rights groups

According to rights groups, Saudi Arabia has sentenced a woman to 34 years in prison and an extra 34 years under a travel ban for tweeting her opinions. The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) stated that Salma Al-prison Shehab’s sentence was longer than any previously given to a male or female activist or dissident in Saudi Arabia. This may indicate an intensification of the Saudi government’s crackdown on those who challenge its narrative.

ESOHR stated in a statement that Salma Al-sentencing Shehab’s is unprecedented and harmful. The European-based human rights organization relies on contacts within the strict Islamic nation, where journalists are not authorized to work freely.

In this photograph, Salma al-Shehab is visible.
ESOHR “In recent years, numerous women activists have been exposed to unjust trials resulting in arbitrary sentences, and some of them have been subjected to severe torture, including sexual harassment,” stated ESOHR.

It is unknown whether Al-Shebab, a dentist and professor at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, considered herself a political or rights activist. According to The Guardian, she was pursuing a PhD in the United Kingdom when, in December 2020, she traveled from Leeds back to Saudi Arabia for a vacation.

During her tour, she was detained and questioned regarding a series of tweets, including those in which she asked for the release of Saudi prisoners of conscience, such as the notable women’s rights campaigner Loujain Al-Hathloul. She also demanded the abolition of Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, which requires women to be supervised by men if they wish to do nearly anything outside the home.

Before she could return to the United Kingdom, she was formally detained and tried for her tweets, according to The Guardian.

According to ESOHR, she was charged of “undermining the security of society and the state, encouraging sedition, aiding those who aim to disrupt public order, and disseminating false and destructive information on Twitter.”

She was initially sentenced to six years in prison in 2021 by Saudi Arabia’s secret Specialized Criminal Court, which specializes on terrorism-related issues. Despite the fact that all of the allegations against her were linked to tweets, an appeals court subsequently enhanced her sentence to 34 years, citing “the counterterrorism regime and its financing” to justify the punitive verdict, as stated by ESOHR.

“The sentencing of Salma under the counterterrorism and funding system demonstrates that Saudi Arabia treats reform advocates and social media critics as terrorists,” claimed ESOHR.

The draconian sentence was revealed just weeks after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which human rights campaigners and others said may strengthen the country’s repression of activists and dissidents.

ESOHR stated, “The verdict against Salma Al-Shehab demonstrates that the Saudi government’s recent actions on the issue of women’s rights are not serious and are part of its whitewashing campaigns to repair its dismal human rights record.” Without hesitation, the Saudi government continues to commit grave abuses against women activists.

Freedom Initiative, a Washington, D.C.-based rights organization, also reported Al-34-year Shehab’s sentence. The Saudi Arabia case manager for the group criticized the country and its powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, for authorizing the draconian punishment despite “bragging to the world that they are strengthening women’s rights and instituting legal reform.”

Dr. Bethany Al-Haidari of the organization said in a statement released last week, “There is no doubt that the situation is deteriorating with this awful sentencing.” “Unfortunately, it is not surprising that MbS feels more emboldened than ever to preside over such blatant abuses of human rights. Biden’s visit to Jeddah and the international community’s support must appear to be a green light in the absence of any serious measures toward accountability.”

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