Saudi Arabia sentences Salma Al-Shehab to an "unprecedented" 34 years in prison

Rights groups: Saudi Arabia sentences Salma Al-Shehab to an "unprecedented" 34 years in prison for her tweets.

According to rights groups, Saudi Arabia has sentenced a woman to 34 years in prison and an additional 34 years for sharing her views on Twitter. The prison sentence for Salma Al-Shehab was longer than any previous sentence against an activist or dissident in Saudi Arabia, male or female. This may indicate the Saudi government's escalation in the crackdown on people who challenge its narrative, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (Europe Saudi Organization for Human Rights).

"The verdict against Salma Al-Shehab is unprecedented and dangerous," the organization said in a statement. The rights group is based in Europe and relies on connections within the conservative Muslim kingdom, where journalists are not allowed to work freely.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights said, "In recent years, many women activists have been subjected to unfair trials that have led to arbitrary sentences, in addition to some of them being subjected to severe torture, including sexual harassment."

It is unclear whether Al Shabab, who specializes in dentistry and lectures at Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University, considers herself a political or human rights activist. According to the Guardian, she studied for her Ph.D. in the UK when she traveled from Leeds to Saudi Arabia in December 2020 for vacation.

During that visit, she was arrested and interrogated over several tweets. She called for releasing Saudi prisoners of conscience, such as prominent women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. She also called for an end to Saudi Arabia's guardianship system, which requires men to supervise women if they want to do almost anything outside their homes.

The Guardian said that before returning to the UK, she was officially arrested and prosecuted for her tweets.

According to the organization, it was accused of "destabilizing the security of society and the stability of the state, spreading sedition, providing aid to those who seek to disturb public order, and spreading false and malicious rumors on Twitter."

She was initially sentenced in 2021 to six years in prison by Saudi Arabia's secret Specialized Criminal Court, which is dedicated to hearing cases related to terrorism charges. The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights said that despite all the charges against it related to the tweets, the appeals court raised the sentence to 34 years, invoking the "anti-terrorist system and its financing to justify the harsh sentence."

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights said that the sentencing of Salma under the anti-terror and financing regime confirms that Saudi Arabia treats those who demand reforms and critics on social networks as terrorists.

The harsh ruling emerged just weeks after US President Joe Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia, which human rights activists and critics have warned could further encourage the country's crackdown on activists and dissidents.

Another rights group, the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom Initiative, also reported a 34-year prison sentence for the meteor. The group's file manager in Saudi Arabia criticized the kingdom and its powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, better known as MBS, for allowing harsh punishment. At the same time, it "bragged to the world that it is working to improve women's rights and bring about legal reform."

"There is no doubt that this abhorrent sentence is getting worse," Dr. Bethany Al-Haidari said in a statement published last week. "It is sadly not surprising that Mohammed bin Salman feels more empowered than ever to take on such gross human rights violations. Without any real steps towards accountability, Biden's trip to Jeddah and the embrace of the international community should feel like a green light."

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