Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi student from Leeds University got 34 years of imprisonment simply for having a Twitter account and following and retweeting dissidents and activists.
This Friday, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, expressed grave concerns over a 34-year prison sentence for a Saudi woman who was charged with human rights and political activities in Twitter.
In a statement the same day, UN High Rights Spokesperson Liz Throssell said “we are appalled by the sentencing of Saudi doctoral student Salma Al-Shehab to 34 years in jail followed by a 34-year travel ban in connection with a series of tweets and retweets.
The extraordinarily lengthy sentence adds to the chilling effect among Government critics and civil society at large and is yet another example of Saudi authorities weaponizing the country’s counter-terrorism and anti-cybercrime laws to target, intimidate and retaliate against human rights defenders and those who voice dissent.”
The statement also called for the immediate release of Al-Shehab and noted that “Saudi Arabia must not only release Al-Shehab so that she can re-join her family, but also review all convictions stemming from free expression against human rights defenders, including women who were jailed after they legitimately demanded reforms of discriminatory policies, as well as religious leaders and journalists.”
The 34-year-old Al-Shehab, who is also the mother of two kids, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2021 while on holiday from her studies at Leeds University in the United Kingdom.
The dean of the Leeds University also expressed concerns and support for the young Saudi student and asserted in a statement following the Saudi court’s decision that “we are deeply concerned to learn of the recent development in Salma’s case and are seeking advice on whether there is anything we can do to support her. Our thoughts remain with Salma, her family, and her friends among our close-knit community of postgraduate researchers.”
Likewise, Amnesty International condemned the move and rebuked Saudi Arabia for the unfair sentence, issuing a statement and saying that having “Salma al-Shehab’s sentence increased to 34 years following an unfair trial show that the authorities intend to use her to set an example amid their unrelenting crackdown on free speech.”
Saudi Arabia and a bad record on human rights violations
One of the pivotal issues of today’s world, which is still a cause of concern for the international community even as we are in the first decade of the 21st century, is the widespread violation of human rights around the world by various governments. And in this regard, the name of Saudi Arabia has always been at the top of the list.
According to a report of the European-Saudi Human Rights Organization, Saudi Arabia has executed 120 people in the first six months of this year, which is almost double the number of people it executed last year.
Similarly, Salma al-Shahab’s sentence was issued while only a few weeks ago, US President Joe Biden, said in response to the criticism of human rights activists about his trip to the Kingdom that he told the ambitious Saudi Crown Prince that he does not want to witness events like the murder of critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi ever again.
Twitter declined to comment on the case and did not respond to specific questions about what – if any – influence Saudi Arabia has over the company. But many critics say that Saudi Arabian billionaire prince al-Waleed bin Talal owns stake of 5.2% in Twitter is not without relevance to the company’s silence.