Saudi Arabia has sentenced a secondary schoolgirl to 18 years in jail and a travel ban for posting tweets in support of political prisoners. The prison sentence came a few hours after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) claimed wide-ranging reforms during an interview with Fox News.
Well-informed sources revealed that the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court handed out the sentence in August to 18-year-old Manal al-Gafiri, who was only 17 at the time of her arrest.
The prison sentence is not the first of its kind. Saudi judiciary has issued several extreme prison sentences over social media activism for criticising the government.
These sentences include the recent death penalty against Mohammed al-Ghamdi, a retired teacher, for comments made on Twitter and YouTube, and the 34-year sentence of Leeds University doctoral candidate Salma al-Shehab over tweets last year, in addition to the 45-year prison sentence of Noura Al-Qahtani.
During the Fox News interview, MBS blamed the harsh prison sentences against social media activists on “bad laws” that he cannot change for reasons he did not reveal nor the journalist has asked for.
“We are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But [under] the jury system, you have to follow the laws, and I cannot tell a judge [to] do that and ignore the law, because… that’s against the rule of law,” he said.
The statements made by MBS are incredibly contradictory. On the one hand, he acknowledges the legal controversies surrounding current laws, but he ignores the fact that the majority of these laws were updated during his term in office, making already problematic laws even worse.
These severe sentences were imposed in accordance with the most recent editions of the Anti-Terrorism Law, which were all updated while MBS was in power. The State Security Agency, which conducts the arrests and inquiries into prisoners of conscience, is additionally directly under MBS’s personal supervision.
The 2017 overhaul of the kingdom’s security apparatus has significantly enabled the repression of Saudi opposition voices, including those of women rights defenders and opposition activists.