Salma Al-Shehab’s 34-Year Prison Sentence Reflects a Worsening Human Rights Situation

Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court increased the sentence of Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University PhD candidate focused on healthcare and mother of two, to 34 years, the longest sentence ever given to a women’s rights defender in the kingdom.

Al-Shehab was originally sentenced to six years in prison for the “crime” of using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”. But on an appeal last week, Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court increased the sentence to 34 years, along with a 34-year travel ban.

According to a translation of the court records, the new charges include the allegation that Shehab was “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts” and by re-tweeting their tweets.

Shehab was not a leading or especially vocal Saudi activist, either inside the kingdom or in the UK. She seemed to support the case of Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi feminist activist who was previously imprisoned, is alleged to have been tortured for supporting driving rights for women, and is now living under a travel ban.

The sentencing by Saudi’s special terrorist court was handed down weeks after the US president Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which human rights activists had warned could embolden the kingdom to escalate its crackdown on dissidents and other pro-democracy activists.

Together for Justice considers the court’s order as the latest example of how the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has targeted Twitter users in his campaign of repression.

Together for Justice also stresses the need for an international urgent intervention to put an end to the Saudi regime’s ruthless repression machine against peaceful opponents.

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