A Saudi Arabian student has been sentenced to 34 years in prison for following and retweeting activists on Twitter.
Salma al-Shehab, 34, studied at Leeds University in the UK and went on holiday to Saudi Arabia in December 2020. A few days before she was due to return in January 2021, the PhD student was detained.
Saudi Arabia’s Special Terrorist Court has convicted her of “causing public unrest and destabilizing civil and national security”.
The student had used her Twitter account – with about 2,700 followers – to follow, like and share posts from Saudi activists or dissidents in exile.
“I reject injustice and support the oppressed,” she wrote in a… 2019 tweet.
Initially, the mother of two young children was sentenced to six years in prison, but prosecutors asked for new charges, including for “spreading false and malicious rumors on Twitter”.
On Monday, an appeals court handed down the new sentence of 34 years in prison, as well as an entry ban of 34 years after her release.
Al-Shebab comes from the Shia Muslim minority, which has long been discriminated against in Saudi Arabia. Her 34-year prison sentence has been widely condemned by activists and politicians.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights described the verdict as a “mockery of justice” and a “report of threats and intimidation from Crown Prince Mohamed Bin-Salman”.
The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights said the verdict sets a “dangerous” precedent for women activists in the country, who they say have already been subjected to “unprecedented campaigns of arrest”, “severe torture” and sexual harassment.
According to human rights organizationsthe 34-year sentence is the longest sentence ever handed down to an activist in Saudi Arabia.
The case also marks the latest example of how the Saudi regime has targeted Twitter users in its campaign of repression.