Truss urged to act after Saudis jail UK student for 34 years on tweets
Britain has a duty to speak out about Salma Al-Shehab, a UK student jailed for 34 years in Saudi Arabia over Twitter use, according to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been urged to intervene in the "outrageous" case of a Leeds University student sentenced to 34 years in prison in Saudi Arabia for using Twitter.
Labour MP for Leeds Central Hilary Benn said the UK had a "duty" to press for the release of Salma Al-Shehab, a Saudi national who had lived in the UK and was detained after returning to see her family last year.
Al-Shehab, who has two young children, was initially jailed for three years for allegedly “causing public unrest” and “destabilizing civil and national security” after appearing to support activists and dissidents on Twitter.
However, an appeals court handed down a new sentence last week - 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban - after a public prosecutor requested that the court consider other alleged crimes.
She described being abused and harassed behind bars, telling a Saudi court that she was subjected to interrogations after being given medications that rendered her exhausted. Amnesty International demanded her "immediate and unconditional release."
In a letter to Truss, Benn says the UK must intervene and calls on her to “make representations to the Saudi authorities” for Al-Shehab “so that she can be freed to return to her family and to her studies."
He said the case is “completely at odds with Saudi Arabia’s claim to be improving human rights,” writing, “It seems that all she has done is use her Twitter account to support women’s rights and greater freedom and to call for the release of imprisoned activists in Saudi Arabia.”
While Saudi Arabia calls for reform and liberalization, it contradicts its statements by imprisoning a woman for expressing her right of having an opinion and preaching it. The Kingdom's "reform" and "liberalization" lack the most important aspect, freedom of speech and expression.
Benn reiterated this, saying, “Saudi Arabia says, ‘we’re reforming the country.’ You can’t on the one hand say, ‘we are opening up and liberalising the country,’ and on the other hand send a woman to prison for expressing her opinions on Twitter."
On its part, Leeds University commented, saying, “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.”
Al-Shehab was in the final year of PhD studies in the School of Medicine, focusing on improving dental treatment for patients with disabilities.