A Saudi court has sentenced a feminist activist to 34 years in prison for “providing assistance to those seeking to disturb public order and spread false news” by “posting tweets” on Twitter.
A Saudi appeals court has sentenced a Saudi feminist activist to 34 years in prison on charges of “providing aid” to dissidents seeking to “destabilize the state” through tweets, according to case documents seen by AFP on Wednesday.
Last June, a Saudi court sentenced Salma Al-Shehab, 34, a mother of two, to six years in prison, three of which were suspended and she was banned from traveling during the same prison term.
The verdict comes after Al-Shehab was convicted of “sending something that would disturb public order and destabilize the security of society and the stability of the state” on Twitter.
On August 9, the District Court of Appeal decided to increase her sentence after an appeal from the Public Ministry and her agent, and sentenced her to 34 years in prison and banned her from traveling for the same period.
The Court of Appeal convicted Al-Shehab of “providing assistance to those seeking to disturb public order and spread false and malicious news” by “writing and posting tweets” on Twitter.
In its new ruling, the court stated that “it did not appear to the circuit that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant will not repeat any of the crimes” with which she is charged. She has the right to reverse the Supreme Court ruling within 30 days of receiving the court’s decision, according to case documents.
The longest prison sentence for any activist
Al-Shehab is not a prominent activist, and her Twitter account has some 2,600 followers, and her tweets were related to advocating for women’s rights in the Kingdom.
Al-Shehab, who is studying for a doctorate in dentistry at the University of Leeds in England, was arrested while on holiday in Saudi Arabia in January 2021.
Human rights organizations condemned the verdict, which is the “longest prison sentence ever imposed” against any activist in Saudi Arabia.
For her part, Lynn Al-Hathloul, Head of Monitoring and Communications at the London-based human rights organization ALQST, said: “This horrific prison sentence reveals the mockery and lack of seriousness of the Saudi authorities over the accusations of reform and change of laws and regulations. in favor of women, and demonstrates its determination to impose the most severe penalties on those who freely express and express their opinions.
A close friend of the Saudi activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Al-Shehab returned to Saudi Arabia in December 2020 on vacation, after the Covid-19 epidemic prevented her from traveling to the Kingdom for months.
According to her friend, Al-Shehab did not think that her activity on Twitter “would cause her any trouble before we were surprised by her arrest.”
Al-Shehab’s representative objected to the ruling: “It should be noted that I was not previously warned and I was not compromised before the suspension.”
He also said that the number of his followers is “modest”, asking: “How can I be with this influence and ability to disrupt the system of a state built on a strong and solid foundation?”
The ruling against Al-Shehab comes amid a widespread crackdown on activists and human rights defenders in the Gulf kingdom, with long-term prison sentences and travel bans.
The new ruling came less than a month after US President Joe Biden met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The move represented a retreat for Biden, who during his election campaign had vowed to make the kingdom a “pariah” state over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and his human rights record.
Biden has refrained from communicating for more than a year and a half with the crown prince, the de facto ruler of his country, but the war in Ukraine and the record rise in oil prices caused Biden to break the Western isolation imposed on the crown saudi prince since Khashoggi’s assassination.
A CIA report concluded that the crown prince “authorized” the operation that led to Khashoggi’s assassination, but Riyadh denies this and points to the involvement of rebel elements in the horrific incident.