Saudi Arabia sentences a Leeds University student to 34 years in prison for using Twitter


A Leeds University student and human rights activist who followed activists and dissidents on Twitter received a 34-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia.

Campaigners stated the decision "sets a dangerous precedent for women activists" and was the "longest issued against female or male activists." Salma al-Shehab, 34, received the sentence.

She had originally been given a three-year prison term for using the internet to "create public discontent and destabilise civil and national security," but on Monday, an appeals court was urged to take other alleged offences into account, leading to the new sentence.

The married mother of two children, who also received a 34-year travel ban, was detained in Saudi Arabia in January 2021 while on vacation.

She is reportedly a lecturer at Princess Nourah University in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and a specialist in oral and dental medicine.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) stated: "This verdict establishes a dangerous precedent for women activists and human rights defenders, even though not all levels of litigation have been implemented.

"Appeals court judges invoked the counterterrorism regime and its financing to justify the harsh ruling, even though all charges against her relate to her Twitter activity," said a statement from the Public Prosecution. 

"The Public Prosecution accused her of several charges, including undermining the security of society and the stability of the state, spreading sedition, providing aid to those who seek to disrupt public order, and spreading false and malicious rumours on Twitter.

Salma was active during campaigns calling for the removal of the guardianship system that places males above women.

Additionally, it stated that "many women activists have been the victims of biassed trials that have resulted in arbitrary sentences."

The group claimed that the phrase "reveals that the Saudi government's recent measures in the women's rights file are not genuine and fall under the whitewashing campaigns it is putting out to repair its terrible human rights record"

While Salma is rumoured to be considering filing an appeal against the decision, Twitter has not yet commented on the situation, according to The Guardian.

The punishment is "unprecedented," according to Lina Alhathloul, director of monitoring and communications for the human rights organisation AQLST, which keeps tabs on events in Saudi Arabia.

"This brutally draconian punishment against Salma sends a terrifying message to Saudi society that the rulers' crackdown on free speech remains as cruel as ever," she stated in an interview with Sky News.

As soon as I received the news, I was overcome with despair and rage. It let me realise that Mohammed bin Salman's rehabilitation is actually taking place, which is what we feared the most.

"The fact that it occurs just a few weeks after Biden's visit and Macron's acceptance of the crown prince is not a coincidence. "It is now imperative that we see a strong and principled response from the international community to help ensure her release," activists warned. 

"Such visits, without clear preconditions in place, only serve to embolden Saudi Arabia's leaders to carry out further abuses."


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