A Saudi woman’s grotesque sentence to 34 years in prison for news on Twitter

A Saudi woman’s grotesque sentence to 34 years in prison for news on Twitter

On her personal page on the social network Twitter, she had pinned the wish for “freedom for prisoners of conscience and for every oppressed person in the world” at the top of her messages. On August 9, Salma Al-Chehab, a 34-year-old medical doctoral student, was sentenced to 34 years in prison, followed by a ban on leaving the country for the same period. His crime: writing or sharing messages of support for women in the kingdom ruled with an iron fist by Prince Mohammed Ben Salman.

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This surreal sentence is the longest ever imposed on a women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia. And once again, this conviction was preceded by arbitrary detention and ill-treatment.

In January 2021, this mother of two young children, who was enrolled at the University of Leeds in the UK, was arrested while on holiday in Saudi Arabia. During interrogation, Salma Al-Chehab was accused of having messages of support for Loujain Al-Hathloul, an activist known for her fight for women’s right to drive in the kingdom who spent nearly three years in prison. Or watching videos of blogger and dissident Omar Abdulaziz, a relative of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated by Saudi commandos in October 2018 at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.

Abuse, threats and sectarian harassment

Salma Al-Chehab was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison for supporting terrorism and disturbing public order. Allegations she strenuously denied: “Your Honor, I wrote this memoir to explain the injustice that I have been the victim of. I hope that God will stand by you and help you take responsibility, administer justice and protect the weak from injustice,” she wrote to the court shortly before that first conviction.

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In this document, sent to Le Monde by The Freedom Initiative, a United States-based organization that defends political prisoners in the Middle East and North Africa, Salma Al-Chehab alleges a victim of abuse, threats and sectarian motives Became harassed during detention and during interrogation, citing “torture and inhumane treatment”.

The academic, who did not have access to a lawyer after his arrest, was held in solitary confinement for thirteen days “under the direction of an investigator who [l]deprived of the first visit [s]a family – the 70th day after [s]we arrest”. She was held for 285 days before appearing in court. “I should have been tried or released after 180 days,” she reminded her judges, referring them to Saudi law.

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