Arabnews24.ca:Wednesday 17 August 2022 10:45 AM: A Leeds University student and human rights activist has been sentenced to 34 years in prison in Saudi Arabia for following activists and dissidents on Twitter.
Salma al-Shehab, 34, was given the sentence in a ruling which campaigners said "sets a dangerous precedent for women activists" and was the "longest issued against female or male activists".
She had initially been sentenced to three years in prison for using the internet to "cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security" - but was handed the new sentence on Monday after an appeals court was asked to consider other alleged crimes.
The married mother of two children, who was also given a 34-year travel ban, was arrested in January 2021 while on holiday in Saudi Arabia.
She is said to be a specialist in oral and dental medicine and a lecturer at Princess Nourah University in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) said: "Although not all levels of litigation have been enforced, this ruling sets a dangerous precedent for women activists and human rights defenders.
"The Public Prosecution accused her of several charges, including undermining the security of society and the stability of the state, spreading sedition, providing aid to those who seek to disrupt public order, and spreading false and malicious rumours on Twitter.
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"Appeals court judges invoked the counterterrorism regime and its financing to justify the harsh ruling, even though all charges against her relate to her Twitter activity."
ESOHR added: "Salma was active during campaigns demanding the lifting of the guardianship system over women by their male relatives".
It also said that "many women activists have been subjected to unfair trials that have led to arbitrary sentences".
The organisation said the sentence "reveals that the recent steps taken by the Saudi government in the file of women's rights are not serious and fall within the whitewashing campaigns it is carrying out to improve its poor human rights record".
Twitter has so far not commented on the case - while it is believed Salma may seek an appeal over the ruling, reported The Guardian.
Lina Alhathloul, head of monitoring and communications for human rights organisation AQLST which monitors events happening in Saudi Arabia, said the sentence is "unprecedented".
She told Sky News: "This shockingly harsh sentence against Salma sends a chilling message to Saudi society that the authorities' crackdown on free speech remains as vicious as ever.
"I felt overwhelmed with sadness and anger when I first heard the news. It made me realise that what we feared most - the rehabilitation of Mohammed bin Salman - is really happening.
"It is no coincidence that it comes just weeks after Biden's visit and Macron's embrace of the crown prince. As activists warned, such visits, without clear preconditions in place, only serve to embolden Saudi Arabia's leaders to carry out further abuses.
"It is now imperative that we see a strong and principled response from the international community to help ensure her release."