Saudi Arabia jails a university student and human rights activist from the UK for ‘using Twitter,’ prompting campaigners to call the sentence ‘shockingly harsh’.
Salma al-Shehab, 34, was arrested in January 2021 while holidaying in Saudi and was initially sentenced to three-years for ‘using the internet to cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security’.
According to Sky News, she was handed a new 34-year sentence on Monday after an appeals court was asked to consider other alleged crimes.
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Campaigners have said the ruling ‘sets a dangerous precedent for women activists’ and was the ‘longest issued against female or male activists’.
European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) said: “Although not all levels of litigation have been enforced, this ruling sets a dangerous precedent for women activists and human rights defenders.
“The Public Prosecution accused her of several charges, including undermining the security of society and the stability of the state, spreading sedition, providing aid to those who seek to disrupt public order, and spreading false and malicious rumours on Twitter.
“Appeals court judges invoked the counterterrorism regime and its financing to justify the harsh ruling, even though all charges against her relate to her Twitter activity.
“Salma was active during campaigns demanding the lifting of the guardianship system over women by their male relatives.”
Lina Alhathloul, head of monitoring and communications for human rights organisation AQLST, which monitors events happening in Saudi Arabia, branded the sentence ‘shockingly harsh’.
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She told Sky News: “This shockingly harsh sentence against Salma sends a chilling message to Saudi society that the authorities’ crackdown on free speech remains as vicious as ever.
“I felt overwhelmed with sadness and anger when I first heard the news. It made me realise that what we feared most – the rehabilitation of Mohammed bin Salman – is really happening.
“It is no coincidence that it comes just weeks after Biden’s visit and Macron’s embrace of the crown prince. As activists warned, such visits, without clear preconditions in place, only serve to embolden Saudi Arabia’s leaders to carry out further abuses.
“It is now imperative that we see a strong and principled response from the international community to help ensure her release.”
al-Shehab is the married mother of two children and is said to be a specialist in oral and dental medicine and a lecturer at Princess Nourah University in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
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