Saudi Arabia sentences a woman to 34 years in prison for using Twitter

According to court documents viewed by AFP on Wednesday, a Saudi court sentenced a woman to 34 years in prison due to her use of Twitter.

According to the records, Salma al-Shehab was given a sentence by the Saudi appeals court on August 9 for helping dissidents who wanted to “break public order” in the kingdom.

Shehab, a PhD candidate at Britain’s University of Leeds and a mother of two, was also banned from travelling abroad for a further 34 years as part of the sentence.

With about 2,600 followers on Twitter, Shehab had frequently tweeted about women’s rights in the conservative Sunni Muslim country.

The sentence comes amid a crackdown on rights activists in the oil-rich Gulf state, many of whom have been slapped with jail sentences and travel bans.

It also occurs less than a month after US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which drew criticism for Biden’s choice to visit the country despite its track record on human rights.

While on vacation from her studies in the UK in January 2021, Shehab was detained in Saudi Arabia.

Prior to the appeals court toughening the sentence this month, the 34-year-old had previously been given a six-year sentence in June, which included three years that were suspended and a travel ban of the same length.

The court records state that she has 30 days to appeal her most recent sentence to the kingdom’s supreme court.

The verdict was condemned by the London-based rights group ALQST, who called it “the Saudi authorities’ longest prison sentence ever for a peaceful protester.”

The head of communications for ALQST, Lina al-Hathloul, claimed that the sentence “makes a mockery of the Saudi authorities’ claims of reform for women and of the judicial system.”

Shehab’s close friend, who spoke to AFP under the condition of anonymity, claimed that up until the moment of her arrest, Shehab “did not feel her behavior on Twitter would cause her any problems.”

One reform that has been linked to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, is the easing of the headscarf and driving restrictions for women.

However, as part of a larger drive against dissent, similar improvements have been accompanied by a crackdown on women’s rights advocates.


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