Saudi Arabia sentences a woman to 34 years in prison for her comments on Twitter | International

Several women with mobile phones in Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia, in December 2019.
Several women with mobile phones in Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia, in December 2019.ERIC LAFFORGUE (Getty)

A Saudi woman, Salma al Shehab, has been sentenced to 34 years in prison in the country for her messages on Twitter, in the longest sentence imposed so far in the Desert Kingdom for expressing opinions “peacefully”, regional defense organizations have denounced. from the human rights. “On August 9, the Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal issued a sentence of 34 years in prison against her, in addition to prohibiting her from traveling abroad for a similar period after serving her sentence,” the Gulf Center for Human Rights said in a statement. Humans (GCDH). “This unjust sentence has to do only with her peaceful and civilized activities on Twitter,” added the NGO.

The GCDH highlighted that this is the “harshest sentence that a peaceful activist has ever received” in Saudi Arabia, where Twitter users and other users of social networks are regularly sentenced for expressing their ideas on them. This organization indicated that Al Shehab, 34, used his Twitter account “in particular to show his belief in the justice of the Palestinian cause and to defend prisoners of conscience.” In addition, she regularly tweeted messages in favor of equal rights for women in Saudi Arabia.

Salma Al-Shehab, in an undated photograph.
Salma Al-Shehab, in an undated photograph.ESOHR/European Saudi Organization for Human Rights

The woman has two children and was preparing her doctorate in oral health in the British city of Leeds until January 15, 2021, when she was arrested while traveling to her country to spend the holidays with the family. She was detained for several months, during which she suffered ill-treatment and was not allowed to hire a lawyer before being tried by a court specialized in terrorism crimes that initially sentenced her to six years in prison, according to NGO data. . But in the review of the sentence by an appeals court, the sentence was increased to 34 years in prison, with charges such as “destabilizing the security of society and the State”, “spreading sedition”, “providing aid to those who seek to disturb public order” or “spread false and malicious rumors on Twitter,” said the CGDH.

The London-based Saudi NGO Alqst expressed in a separate statement the fear that this extremely harsh sentence is “the start of a new trend that the Saudi authorities will follow in the coming days, as a mechanism to punish all those who criticize their policies.” , in a context of “already excessively harsh repression”.

The United States has reacted this Wednesday to the sentence, by assuring that it is studying the details of the case. “Exercising freedom of expression to defend women’s rights should not be criminalized; it should never be criminalized,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

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The CGDH considers the condemnation “a message of threat and intimidation sent by the crown prince, Mohamed bin Salmán, who now has control of the country, to all internet activists that this is the fate that awaits those who use social networks. ”. Human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced that Saudi Arabia prosecutes and condemns activists, social media users and critics in general as terrorists for expressing their opinions.

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