As the Saudi authorities continue to suppress activists through its unfair judicial system, a Saudi court sentenced the 34-year-old activist, Salma Al-Shehab, to 34 years in prison, which is the longest prison verdict issued against any activist. Al-Shehab was sentenced for having a Twitter account on which she followed and interacted with Saudi opponents and activists.
The Saudi activist, who is studying at the University of Leeds, UK, returned to Riyadh only to be arrested by the Saudi authorities in January 2021.
A terrorism court issued this verdict against Al-Shehab a few weeks after US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which human rights activists warned that it could encourage escalation of violence against dissidents calling for freedom and political reforms.
Salma, a mother of two children, was initially sentenced to 3 years in prison for using a website to “incite public disturbances and security,” however the appeal court increased the sentence to 34 years, followed by another 34 years of travel ban. The severe sentence came after the public prosecutor requested the consideration of other alleged crimes, including “aiding those seeking public and security disturbances by following them and retweeting their tweets.”
Salma was not a famous Saudi activist or has special activities in Saudi Arabia or in the UK. She only had 159 followers on Instagram, where she writes that she is a dental specialist, a medical teacher, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, a lecturer at the “Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman” University, a wife and mother to her 4- and 6-years old sons, Noah and Adam.
Salma stressed in her trial that she is a peaceful person who uses her real name on social media, shares pictures of her children, and has only 2000 followers, therefore she does not pose any security threat.
Salma told the court that she had been held in solitary confinement for 285 days; however, the court ignored her complaint and issued a severe rule against her, like dozens of activists and intellectuals that received unfair sentences with the aim of terrorizing them, and silencing all dissidents.
The flimsy justifications and the harsh sentence against Salma reaffirm the brutality, violence, and repressive approach against activists who are subjected to unfair trials, arbitrary sentences and severe torture of other Saudi women activists, as well as sexual harassment.