Salma al-Shehab, Saudi activist, sentenced to 34 years for tweeting

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BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia quietly sentenced a girl final week to 34 years in jail over her Twitter exercise, marking the longest Saudi sentence ever for a peaceable activist and launching a recent wave of concern among the many authorities’s detractors, three rights teams stated.

The lady, Salma al-Shehab, was detained in January 2021 in Saudi Arabia, the place she was on trip, days earlier than the Saudi citizen and mom of two was set to return to her dwelling in Britain, in accordance with rights teams. The fees in opposition to the 33-year-old all revolved round her Twitter exercise, in accordance with court docket paperwork.

Shehab had been lively on the social media platform throughout campaigns demanding the abolition of the nation’s guardianship system, which provides males authorized management over sure elements of feminine family’ lives. She had referred to as for the releasing of Saudi prisoners of conscience.

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In line with court docket data obtained by The Washington Put up, Shehab was accused of utilizing a social media web site “to disrupt public order, undermine the security of society and stability of the state, and support those who had committed criminal actions according to the counterterrorism law and its financing.”

The paperwork stated she supported such people “by following their social media accounts and rebroadcasting their tweets,” and that she unfold false rumors. The paperwork went on to say that after she appealed an preliminary conviction, it was determined that her jail sentence was too quick “considering her crimes,” and that her earlier sentence did not “achieve restraint and deterrence.”

On high of a 34-year sentence and subsequent 34-year journey ban, which begins after the jail sentence ends, the court docket dominated that her cell phone be confiscated and her Twitter account be “closed down permanently.”

The fees are acquainted: Sowing sedition and destabilizing the state are accusations regularly used in opposition to activists within the kingdom who communicate up in opposition to the established order. Saudi Arabia has lengthy wielded its counterterrorism legislation in opposition to residents whose protests are deemed unacceptable, particularly in the event that they criticize the de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In late 2021, the preliminary ruling in opposition to Shehab gave her six years in jail. When she appealed, nonetheless, it was elevated to 34 — the nation’s longest sentence in opposition to a peaceable activist, in accordance with a number of human rights teams.

Rights teams have repeatedly warned in regards to the authorities’s current use of the counterterrorism legislation. In April, Human Rights Watch stated legal guidelines reminiscent of “the notoriously abusive counterterrorism law and the anti-cybercrime law, include vague and overly broad provisions that have been widely interpreted and abused.” The rulings are additionally usually characterised by inconsistent and harsh sentences.

Because the sentence consists of the closure of her Twitter account, no less than one rights group is attempting to ensure it isn’t shut down, stated Lina al-Hathloul, head of monitoring and communications at ALQST, a London-based Saudi rights group.

“Now we’re working with Twitter not to close it or to make them aware that at least if they’re asked to close it, it comes from the Saudi government and not from her,” she stated. Twitter didn’t reply to a request for remark from The Put up.

In its assertion Tuesday, the European Saudi Group for Human Rights, which tracks arrests within the kingdom, stated the choice to condemn Shehab below the counterterrorism legislation “confirms that Saudi Arabia deals with those who demand reforms and critics on social networks as terrorists.”

The group stated the ruling units a harmful precedent and reveals that Saudi Arabia’s broadly lauded efforts to modernize the dominion and enhance girls’s rights “are not serious and fall within the whitewashing campaigns it is carrying out to improve its human rights record.”

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Earlier than her arrest, Shehab was a lecturer at Princess Nourah College within the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and a PhD scholar in her last yr at Britain’s College of Leeds. She was conducting exploratory analysis there about new strategies in oral and dental drugs and their functions in Saudi Arabia, a colleague who labored along with her in Leeds stated.

The individual, who spoke on the situation anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case, described Shehab as a “wonderful” and “generous” colleague — “the type of person who always brings in treats.”

She by no means publicly spoke of politics, the colleague added, as an alternative talking usually of her youngsters and displaying buddies and colleagues images of them. She “missed her family a lot.”

Shehab went again to Saudi Arabia on the finish of 2019 and by no means returned to highschool in Britain. At first, that didn’t alarm anybody, given the lengthy interval of coronavirus lockdowns that started in March 2020 in England. However ultimately, her colleague stated, folks started asking, “Has anyone heard from Salma?”

“It came as a shock to all of us because we thought, ‘How can a person like her be arrested?’ ” the individual stated.

A College of Leeds spokesperson advised The Put up by way of electronic mail, “We are deeply concerned to learn of this recent development in Salma’s case and we 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,” the spokesperson added.

When requested whether or not it was monitoring Shehab’s case or was concerned in any makes an attempt to safe her launch, the British Overseas Workplace advised The Put up by way of electronic mail that “ministers and senior officials have repeatedly raised concerns over the detention of Women’s Rights Defenders with the Saudi authorities and will continue to do so.”

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Shehab belongs to the minority Shiite sect of Islam — seen by many hard-line Sunni Muslims as heretical and whose adherents in Saudi Arabia are sometimes robotically seen with suspicion by the Sunni authorities.

Saudi Arabia usually has been criticized for its remedy of the Shiite minority. Earlier this yr, New York-based Human Rights Watch stated in its annual report on human rights that the dominion “systematically discriminates against Muslim religious minorities,” together with Shiites.

Shehab’s final Twitter exercise was Jan. 13, 2021, two days earlier than her arrest, when she retweeted a traditional Arabic tune about lacking a cherished one’s firm.

On her Twitter web page, which stays lively, she has a pinned tweet of a prayer asking for forgiveness if she had ever transgressed in opposition to one other human unknowingly and asking God to assist her reject injustice and assist those that face it.

The tweet ends with “freedom to the prisoners of conscience and to every oppressed person in the world.”

Timsit reported from France.

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