Saudi activist gets 34 years in prison for tweets demanding women’s rights

Salma al-Shehab, a mother-of-two and Saudi national, was reportedly arrested in January 2021 while on vacation in Saudi Arabia, just days before she was supposed to board for her home in Britain, according to rights organizations.

Human rights organizations have denounced the harsh judgment against the 34-year-old Saudi woman, arrested last year and sentenced to 34 years in prison for allegedly following and retweeting activists and dissidents on Twitter. The woman, a doctoral candidate at the University of Leeds in the UK, had gone on vacation at the scheduled time, according to The Guardian.

According to reports, the sentence is one of the longest prison sentences ever imposed on a Saudi women’s rights defender.

A special anti-terrorism court initially sentenced Salma al-Shehab to three years in prison. According to the court, Shehab “caused public disorder and destabilized civil and national security” by using an Internet site. An appeals court amended it later on Monday, increasing the sentence to 34 years in prison and a travel ban of 34 years.

Shehab was active on social media during campaigns to abolish the country’s guardianship system, which gives men legal control over specific aspects of the lives of their loved ones.

According to ESOHR, which tracks arrests in the kingdom, Shehab has been accused of fomenting sedition, aiding those who seek to undermine public order, spreading malicious and false rumors on Twitter and undermining social stability and security.

The decision to convict Shehab under the Anti-Terrorism Law, according to an ESOHR statement on Tuesday, “confirms that Saudi Arabia calls those who demand reform and criticize on social media as terrorists.”

Her most recent tweet is a prayer asking for God’s forgiveness if she has ever unintentionally hurt someone and begging Him to give her the strength to reject injustice and support those who do.