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Saudi mother gets 34 years in prison for tweets

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Balkis Press/Abaca Press/TNS)
November 03, 2022

Saudi Arabia recently handed a mother of two a 34-year prison sentence for tweets critical of the kingdom’s regime, an escalation of crackdown under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-old Saudi citizen, was sentenced in August after appealing an initial six-year sentence, BBC reported. After her release, she will also be subject to a 34-year travel ban.

Her new 34-year sentence is the longest ever given to a Saudi defender of women’s rights, according to the Freedom Initiative. She can still appeal to the Saudi supreme court, according to NBC News.

“Saudi Arabia has boasted to the world that they are improving women’s rights and creating legal reform, but there is no question with this abhorrent sentence that the situation is only getting worse,” said Bethany Al-Haidari, Saudi case manager for the Freedom Initiative.

Al-Shehab, who was in the final year of her PhD at the Leeds University School of Medicine, was vacationing in her home country when she was arrested on Jan. 15, 2021, according to BBC. 

She hasn’t tweeted since three days before her arrest, and the account still boasts only a modest 3,290 followers.

At the end of 2020, she retweeted a post calling several jailed Saudi activists “prisoners of conscience,” and posted her own tweet: “Freedom for the prisoners of patriarchal systems and shame and disgrace for the jailer!”

In November, she made multiple tweets against mandatory hijabs for women, saying in one post that “Molding women’s fashion under the pretext of liberating them is to dominate them in another way.”

Her sentence came a month after President Joe Biden visited the kingdom despite previously vowing to make the crown prince a “pariah” for ordering the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. And it came just two months before the kingdom sentenced a Saudi-American dual citizen to 16 years, also for critical tweets.

Al-Haidari, from the Freedom Initiative, said continued relations with the kingdom ensure the crown prince “feels more empowered than ever in presiding over such egregious rights violations.”

“Without any real steps toward accountability, Biden’s trip to Jeddah and the international community’s embrace must feel like a green light,” she said.