Saudi Arabia sentences a woman to 34 years in prison for her comments on Twitter

Saudi Arabia sentences a woman to 34 years in prison for her comments on Twitter

Several women using mobile phones in Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia, in December 2019.Several women using mobile phones in Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia, in December 2019. ERIC LAFFORGUE (Getty)

A Saudi woman, Salma al Shehab, was sentenced in the country to 34 years in prison, the longest sentence ever handed down in the desert kingdom, for “peaceful expression of opinion,” as regional defense organizations denounced human rights. “On Aug. 9, the Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal sentenced her to 34 years in prison in addition to barring her from traveling abroad for a similar period after serving her sentence,” the Gulf Center for Human Rights said in a statement, according to People ( GCDH). “This unjust sentence has nothing to do with his peaceful and civilized activities on Twitter,” the NGO added.

The GCDH highlighted that this is “the harshest punishment ever received by a peaceful activist in Saudi Arabia,” where Twitter users and other social media users are regularly condemned for speaking out on the matter. That organization pointed out that 34-year-old Al Shehab used his Twitter account “specifically to show his belief in the justice of the Palestinian cause and to defend prisoners of conscience.” She also regularly tweeted messages in favor of women’s equality in Saudi Arabia.

Salma Al-Shehab, in an undated photo.Salma Al-Shehab, in an undated photo ESOHR / European Saudi Organization for Human Rights

The woman has two children and was preparing for her doctorate in oral health in the British city of Leeds until January 15, 2021, when she was arrested while traveling to her country to spend the holidays with family. She was detained for several months, ill-treated and denied access to a lawyer before being tried by a specialized terrorism court, which the NGO said initially sentenced her to six years in prison. But when an appeals court reviewed the verdict, the sentence was increased to 34 years in prison on charges such as “destabilizing the security of society and the state”, “spreading hate speech”, “aiding those who attempt to disrupt public order”. ’ or ‘spreading false and malicious rumors on Twitter’, according to the CGDH.

London-based Saudi NGO Alqst, in a separate statement, expressed concern that this extremely harsh ruling is “the start of a new trend that the Saudi authorities will follow in the coming days as a mechanism to punish all those who violate their criticize politics. ’, in the context of ‘already too harsh repression’.

The United States responded to the verdict on Wednesday, stating that it is investigating the details of the case. “Exercising freedom of expression in defense of women’s rights should not be criminalized; it should never be criminalized,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

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The CGDH considers the sentencing “as a message of threat and intimidation sent to all internet activists by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salmán, who is now in control of the country, that this is the fate that awaits those who use social networks. Human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced Saudi Arabia’s prosecution and condemnation of activists, social media users and critics in general as terrorists for speaking out.

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