34-year-old Saudi woman jailed for 34 years for using Twitter

A 34-year-old woman from Saudi Arabia who was arrested last year has been sentenced to 34 years in prison.

She was reportedly arrested for following and re-tweeting activists and dissidents on Twitter.

Salma al-Shehab, 34, a mother of two young children and a PhD student at Leeds University in the United Kingdom had been arrested in January 2021.

Shehab was initially sentenced to three years in prison by a special terrorist court. The court said that Shehab used an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”. Later, on Monday, an appeals court revised it to 34 years of imprisonment and a 34-year travel ban.

The ruling is reportedly one of the longest prison sentences given to a Saudi woman’s rights defender.

According to reports, the court documents said 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.

In her appeal, Shehab argued that her small following did not pose a security risk; in addition to using her real name on the platform, she frequently used it to share photos of her children and other innocuous content.

It is to be noted that Shehab is hardly a prominent activist in the country or abroad, having 2,597 followers on Twitter and 159 followers on Instagram.

Human rights groups including The Freedom Initiative, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, and ALQST for Human Rights are condemning the harsh sentence ruled by Saudi’s special terrorist court which came just a few weeks after US president Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

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