Saudi woman, Salma al-Shehab, sentenced to 34-year in prison for using Twitter

Saudi Woman, Salma Al-Shehab, Sentenced To 34-Year In Prison For Using Twitter
📷 Salma al-Shehab via Twitter

The 34-year-old mother of two young children, Salma al-Shehab, was first given a three-year prison term for the “crime” of using an online website to “create public disturbance and destabilise civil and national security.” A public prosecutor, however, requested that the court take into account other alleged offences, and an appeals court on Monday delivered the increased sentence—34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban.

The latest allegations include the accusation that Shehab was “assisting people who aim to generate public unrest and jeopardise civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts” and by retweeting their messages, according to a translation of the court documents viewed by the Guardian.

She had 2,597 followers, according to her Twitter profile. Shehab occasionally retweeted tweets by Saudi dissidents in exile that demanded the liberation of political prisoners in the kingdom, in addition to tweets about Covid’s burnout and images of her young children. She appeared to support the case of Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known Saudi feminist activist who has endured imprisonment, is suspected of having been subjected to torture for advocating for the rights of women to drive, and is currently under a travel ban.

A Saudi living in exile whose sister and brother are detained in the country, Khalid Aljabri, claimed that the Shehab case supported Saudi Arabia‘s notion that dissent is equivalent to terrorism.

“Salma’s draconian sentencing in a terrorism court over peaceful tweets is the latest manifestation of MBS’s ruthless repression machine,” he said, referring to the crown prince. “Just like [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s assassination, her sentencing is intended to send shock waves inside and outside the kingdom – dare to criticise MBS and you will end up dismembered or in Saudi dungeons.”

A number of human rights organisations have denounced the decision and demanded her release, including the Human Rights Foundation, The Freedom Initiative, the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, and ALQST for Human Rights.

“We call on Saudi authorities to free Salma, allowing her to return to care for the children and to complete her studies safely in the United Kingdom,” said The Freedom Initiative in a statement. “Tweeting in solidarity with women’s rights activists is not a crime, ” it added.

Shehab is a Shi’a Muslim, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom stated that this was a contributing factor in her imprisonment and severe punishment.

Shehab is a specialist in oral and dental medicine, a PhD student at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, and a lecturer at Princess Nourah University. She is married with two young sons, according to the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), based in Berlin. Days before she was supposed to fly back to the UK, on January 15, 2021, she was reportedly detained.

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