A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a 34-year-old Saudi woman studying in the UK to 34 years in prison for using Twitter and following and retweeting activists.
Salma Al-Shehab, who was studying her PhD at the University of Leeds, was detained when she returned to Saudi Arabia for a holiday in January 2021.
She was initially sentenced to six years for the “‘crime’ of using an internet website to ’cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security’,” according to the Guardian.
On Monday Aug. 12, a terrorism court increased her sentence to 34 years, the longest known sentence for a women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia, according to the Freedom Initiative, a non-profit advocating for prisoners wrongfully detained in the Middle East and North Africa.
She was also handed a 34 year travel ban.
Al-Shehab had 2,597 followers on Twitter and only 159 followers on Instagram.
She tweeted about COVID burnout and shared photos of her boys, aged four and eight and sometimes retweeted Saudi dissidents in exile calling for political prisoners to be released.
She was seen to be supportive of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who had been previously jailed for fighting for women’s rights to drive.
Al-Hathloul was released in February 2021 after 1,001 days in prison but remains under a travel ban.
Shehab was found guilty of “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts” and retweeting their tweets, according to court records seen by the Guardian.
“Saudi Arabia has boasted to the world that they are improving women’s rights and creating legal reform, but there is no question with this abhorrent sentence that the situation is only getting worse,” the Freedom Initiative said in a statement.
It called for Saudi authorities to release Al-Shehab and ensure that her sons don’t grow up without a mother “simply because she called for freedom for human rights activists.”