A Saudi Arabian woman was sentenced to 34 years in prison on Monday over her retweeting posts calling for the rights of women to drive in the country. Reportedly, the shared posts were from Saudi activists living in exile who were calling for the release of political prisoners.
Salma al-Shehab, a 33-year-old mother of two and PhD candidate at Leeds University in the UK, has been detained since January 2021 during a trip to the country for vacation, according to court documents view by CNN.
At some point during her visit, she was arrested for the retweets, and was held for questioning for 265 days before being sentenced to six years in prison for “disturbing public order and destabilizing the country and stability of life,” the outlet reports.
Six-Year Sentence Increased To 34-Years After Failed Appeal, Per Court Documents
After appealing the decision, she was resentenced to 34 years in prison, according to court documents. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State said it’s looking into al-Shehab’s case.
Salma Al-Shehab, a 34-year old mother of two, was sentenced to a 34 year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia.
Why? Because she Tweeted. Yes, retweeted tweets from activists. RT pic.twitter.com/ePsiUo2yHe
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) August 18, 2022
“But I can say this is a general matter and I can say this without any caveat and resolutely: exercising freedom of expression to advocate for the rights of women should not be criminalized,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
Al-Shehab reportedly told the specialized criminal court that she was “propelled” without warning into a months-long investigation, where she was kept in solitary confinement.
She added that she needed to take care of her children and sick mother, and asked that the court take that under consideration, the documents read.
OneActivists Retweeted By al-Shehab Was Her Own Sister, Who Herself Was Jailed For Dubious Charges
ALQST’s Head of Monitoring and Communications Lina Al-Hathloul told CNN that one of the activists al-Shehab retweeted was her own sister, Loujain al-Hathloul, who herself spend 1,000 days in jail after a May 2018 sting that targeted prominent political opponents who were voicing their criticisms about the country’s now-rescinded law which prevented women from driving.
Will our foreign secretary, who famously went to school in Leeds and loves free speech, condemn Saudi Arabia for sentencing Leeds Uni student Salma al-Shehab to 34 years in jail for using Twitter?
Nothing from Truss so far. pic.twitter.com/fMFC5EwrR4
— Phil Miller (@pmillerinfo) August 18, 2022
Her sister released a statement through ALQST that condemned the kingdom and said al-Shehab’s sentence “makes a mockery of the Saudi authorities’ claim of reform for women and of the legal system,” and that it “shows that they remain hellbent on harshly punishing anyone who expresses their opinions freely.”
Meanwhile, al-Shehab’s Twitter account is still online and has a pinned tweet that reads “freedom for prisoners of conscience and all the oppressed of the world.”
Kingdom Emboldened Following President Biden’s ‘Weak’ Showing During Visit, Critics Say
The international backlash comes just a week after U.S. President Joe Biden visited Saudi Arabia, where he was criticized in an Atlantic co-ed column for appearing weak in the face of growing brashness from the oil-rich Gulf nation.
Within 24-hours of leaving the country, an American citizen, Asim Ghafoor, to sentenced to three years in prison on flimsy charges.
Ghafoor, who was a lawyer for slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi (another source of friction between the U.S. and the kingdom), was detained only two days beforehand while traveling through Dubai International Airport, per the Atlantic.
A State Department spokesman was vague when asked by CNN if Saudi Arabia had been emboldened by recent US engagements within the country, saying “our engagement… has made clear… that human rights is central to our agenda.”