Saudi Woman Sentenced to 34 Years Over Twitter Use

Salma al-Shehab retweeted posts from activists
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2022 7:20 PM CDT
Saudi Woman Sentenced to 34 Years Over Twitter Use
The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights released this photo of Salma al-Shehab.   (European Saudi Organization for Human Rights)

(Newser) – In December 2020, Salma al-Shehab took a break from her studies at a university in England and returned to Saudi Arabia. She was arrested in connection with her use of Twitter and sentenced to three years in prison, which an appeals court has now increased to 34 years, to be followed by a 34-year travel ban, the Guardian reports. Shehab, who occasionally retweeted posts from Saudi dissidents, was initially charged by a court that deals with terrorism charges with using the internet to "cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security."

The new charges state that she was "assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts." Shehab, 34, has two young children and was studying for a PhD at the University of Leeds. Hers is the longest sentence ever handed down to a Saudi activist or dissident, though the Guardian notes that she wasn't particularly vocal or influential and that it's not clear whether she even considered herself an activist. She had around 2,600 followers on Twitter and 159 on Instagram. The dissidents she supported included Loujain al-Hathloul, who was imprisoned and tortured after leading a push for women to be allowed to drive.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights called the harsh sentence "unprecedented and dangerous," CBS reports. "Sentencing Salma under the counter-terrorism and financing system confirms that Saudi Arabia deals with those who demand reforms and critics on social networks as terrorists," the group said in a statement. The Washington, DC-based Freedom Initiative rights group said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "feels more empowered than ever in presiding over such egregious rights violations" after President Biden's trip to Jeddah. (Read more Saudi Arabia stories.)

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