The 34-year-old Salma al-Shehab from Saudi Arabia has been sentenced on appeal to a historically high prison sentence of 34 years. She is said to have caused public unrest on her Twitter account, according to the government, The Guardian reports . Human rights groups react with shock to the conviction of the mother of two young children.
Al-Shehab was arrested in Saudi Arabia in January 2021. The mother of two young boys was studying at the University of Leeds, in England at the time, and was only on holiday to her home country. Saudi authorities accused her of spreading disinformation through social media to cause public unrest. Al-Shehab followed activists’ accounts on the social media platform and shared some of their posts.
"Salma al-Shehab is imprisoned for her women's rights activism…as well as her religious identity," says @USCIRF.
— The Freedom Initiative (@thefreedomi) August 16, 2022
Wow. @washingtonpost just dropped this FIRE regarding #Saudi women’s rights activist Salma alShehab’s outrageous sentencing of 34 years in prison last week. Thank you for refusing to be silent on atrocities happening in #SaudiArabia under MBS. #freesalma https://t.co/m7kiGXB4lO
— Bethany Alhaidari, Ph.D. (ام زينة) (@BethanyHaidari) August 16, 2022
After the arrest, Al-Shehab was sentenced to six years in prison. After the appeal, this sentence was increased to 34 years, followed by a travel ban of another 34 years. The appeal included new charges and the case was heard in a special Saudi terrorism court. It is the most severe sentence ever imposed on a Saudi activist.
Saudi Arabia has boasted to the world that they are improving women’s rights and implementing legal reforms, but with this appalling statement there is no doubt that the situation has only gotten worse.”
According to court documents, the sentence is so severe because Al-Shehab is said to have helped people “who want to cause public unrest and who want to destabilize social and national security” . They allegedly did this by following their Twitter accounts and further spreading their messages. El-Shehab defended herself by saying she did not pose a security risk because her Twitter account only has 2,600 followers. Furthermore, she is not a well-known or influential activist.
In the #Saudi authorities’ longest prison sentence ever for a peaceful activist, the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal on 9 August handed down terms totalling 34 years without suspension to women’s rights campaigner Salma al-Shehab. #SaudiArabiahttps://t.co/3bRLwqioec pic.twitter.com/fYgVrATNFX
— ALQST for Human Rights (@ALQST_En) August 15, 2022
Human rights activists from all over the world reacted with shock to the prison sentence. Bethany al-Haidari of The Freedom Initiative, a Washington-based human rights organization, made her voice heard on Twitter. “Saudi Arabia has boasted to the world that they are improving women’s rights and implementing legal reforms, but this abhorrent statement makes it clear that the situation has only gotten worse. The Saudi authorities must release Salma and ensure that her young children did not grow up without a mother, simply because she called for freedom for human rights activists.”
We deplore the 34 year imprisonment of mother and student Salma al-Shehab by Saudi authorities for following and retweeting women's rights activists on Twitter. Her detention is a flagrant violation of international law. https://t.co/0fyGCHiiLN #FreeSalma #HRC51 @LinaAlhathloul
— ISHR (@ISHRglobal) August 17, 2022
The independent human rights organization ALQST is also concerned about the arrest and the long prison term. Like many others, they also express themselves on Twitter.
A few weeks ago, US President Biden was visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The two talked about human rights and the murder of critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Bin Salman said he regrets this event and that the country has taken all necessary measures regarding the Kahshoggi incident.
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