UN denounces Saudi 34-year sentence against female activist over tweet
The UN Human Rights Council slams the Saudi Kingdom's decision to sentence Salma Al-Shehab to 34 years in prison for the mere reason of tweeting in solidarity with women’s rights activists.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) condemned Saudi Arabia for sentencing the women's rights activist Salma Al-Shehab to 34 years of imprisonment after the Kingdom widened its repressive measures against pro-democracy campaigners following the easing of its isolation from the international community after the brutal killing of Khashoggi.
The UN organization stated in a statement that the sentence handed down to Shehab, a mother of two small children and a PhD student at the United Kingdom's Leeds University, is the longest ever granted to a women's rights advocate in Saudi Arabia.
The Council maintained that Saudi authorities have used their return to the international fold following the horrific murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, to intensify their crackdown on political opponents.
Al-Shehab was sentenced to six years in prison for using an internet website to allegedly "cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security," according to the UNHRC, but after a public prosecutor requested that other alleged crimes be considered, an appeals court recently increased the sentence to 34 years, along with a 34-year travel ban.
She was on holiday in Saudi Arabia in January 2021 and had planned to return to the United Kingdom when she was detained, according to the Freedom Initiative, a Washington-based human rights organization.
Several human rights organizations have criticized the judgment against the Saudi women's rights campaigner and demanded her release, including the Human Rights Foundation, the Freedom Initiative, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), and ALQST for Human Rights.
“We call on Saudi authorities to free Salma, allowing her to return to care for her children and to complete her studies safely in the United Kingdom,” the Freedom Initiative, a Washington-based human rights organization, said in a statement.
“Tweeting in solidarity with women’s rights activists is not a crime,” it added.
The Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Salma al-Shehab. pic.twitter.com/SUOA53gCoG— Amnesty International (@amnesty) August 18, 2022
Salma Al-Shehab, a 34-year old mother of two, was sentenced to a 34 year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia.— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) August 18, 2022
Why? Because she Tweeted. Yes, retweeted tweets from activists. RT pic.twitter.com/ePsiUo2yHe
Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University student, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for retweeting dissidents by use of Twitter.— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) August 17, 2022
This sentence from the Saudi Dictator’s terrorist court, for criticizing MBS’ reign of terror (driven by blood & oil) IS, ITSELF, terrorism! https://t.co/FGepNQjwmJ
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said, “Shehab’s religious identity as a Shia Muslim is believed to have been a factor in her arrest and harsh sentencing.”
“Salma was active during campaigns demanding the lifting of the guardianship system over women by their male relatives. She also called for freedom for male and female prisoners of conscience, such as human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul and members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA),” ESOHR said in a statement.
Al-Shehab told a Saudi court that she had been subjected to abuse and harassment throughout her custody, including interrogations after being given drugs that rendered her exhausted.
The 34-year-old also said she was "repeatedly accosted" by at least five males and that these actions had led to an “outright insult and abuse of human dignity”.
Since Mohammad bin Salman became the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in 2017, the country has jailed hundreds of activists, bloggers, academics, and others for political activism, demonstrating almost zero tolerance for dissent despite international condemnation of the crackdown.
Muslim academics have been executed, and women's rights activists have been imprisoned and tortured, while the Kingdom's authorities continue to deny freedom of expression, association, and belief. Over the past years, Riyadh went as far as redefining its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.