Saudi girl given 34-year jail sentence for utilizing Twitter

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A Saudi pupil at Leeds College who had returned house to the dominion for a vacation has been sentenced to 34 years in jail for having a Twitter account and for following and retweeting dissidents and activists.

The sentencing by Saudi’s particular terrorist courtroom was handed down weeks after the US president Joe Biden’s go to to Saudi Arabia, which human rights activists had warned may embolden the dominion to escalate its crackdown on dissidents and different pro-democracy activists.

The case additionally marks the newest instance of how the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has focused Twitter customers in his marketing campaign of repression, whereas concurrently controlling a significant oblique stake within the US social media firm by means of Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Funding Fund (PIF).

Salma al-Shehab, 34, a mom of two younger youngsters, was initially sentenced to 3 years in jail for the “crime” of utilizing an web web site to “trigger public unrest and destabilise civil and nationwide safety”. However an appeals courtroom on Friday handed down the brand new sentence – 34 years in jail adopted by a 34-year journey ban – after a public prosecutor requested the courtroom to think about different alleged crimes.

Based on a translation of the courtroom information, which had been seen by the Guardian, the brand new expenses embrace the allegation that Shehab was “helping those that search to trigger public unrest and destabilise civil and nationwide safety by following their Twitter accounts” and by re-tweeting their tweets. It’s believed that Shehab should be capable to search a brand new enchantment within the case.

Salma al-Shehab and her household. {Photograph}: ESOHR

By all accounts, Shehab was not a number one or particularly vocal Saudi activist, both inside the dominion or within the UK. She described herself on Instagram – the place she had 159 followers – as a dental hygienist, medical educator, PhD pupil at Leeds College and lecturer at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman College, and as a spouse and a mom to her sons, Noah and Adam.

Her Twitter profile confirmed she had 2,597 followers. Amongst tweets about Covid burnout and photos of her younger youngsters, Shehab typically retweeted tweets by Saudi dissidents dwelling in exile, which referred to as for the discharge of political prisoners within the kingdom. She appeared to help the case of Loujain al-Hathloul, a outstanding Saudi feminist activist who was beforehand imprisoned, is alleged to have been tortured for supporting driving rights for girls, and is now dwelling below a journey ban.

One one who knew Shehab stated she couldn’t abdomen injustice. She was described as well-educated and an avid reader who had arrived within the UK in 2018 or 2019 to pursue her PhD at Leeds. She had returned house to Saudi Arabia in December 2020 on a vacation and had meant to deliver her two youngsters and husband again to the UK along with her. She was then referred to as in for questioning by Saudi authorities and finally arrested and tried for her tweets.

An individual who adopted her case stated Shehab had at instances been held in solitary confinement and had sought throughout her trial to privately inform the decide one thing about how she had been dealt with, which she didn’t need to state in entrance of her father. She was not permitted to speak the message to the decide, the individual stated. The appeals verdict was signed by three judges however the signatures had been illegible.

Twitter declined to touch upon the case and didn’t reply to particular questions on what – if any – affect Saudi Arabia has over the corporate. Twitter beforehand didn’t reply to questions by the Guardian about why a senior aide to Prince Mohammed, Bader al-Asaker, has been allowed to maintain a verified Twitter account with greater than 2 million followers, regardless of US authorities allegations that he orchestrated an unlawful infiltration of the corporate which led nameless Twitter customers to be recognized and jailed by the Saudi authorities. One former Twitter worker has been convicted by a US courtroom in connection to the case.

One among Twitter’s greatest traders is the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns greater than 5% of Twitter by means of his funding firm, Kingdom Holdings. Whereas Prince Alwaleed nonetheless serves as chairman of the corporate, his management over the group confronted questions within the US media, together with the Wall Avenue Journal, after it emerged that the Saudi royal – a cousin of the crown prince – had been held captive on the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh for 83 days. The incident was a part of a broader purge led by Prince Mohammed in opposition to different members of the royal household and businessmen, and concerned allegations of torture, coercion and expropriation of billions in property into Saudi coffers.

In a 2018 Bloomberg interview of Prince Alwaleed, which was performed in Riyadh seven weeks after his launch, the billionaire acknowledged he had reached a “confirmed understanding” with the Saudi authorities, apparently in connection to his launch, which was confidential.

Extra just lately, Kingdom Holding introduced in Might that it had bought about 17% of its firm to the PIF, the place Prince Mohammed serves as chairman, for $1.5bn. That, in flip, makes the Saudi authorities a big oblique investor in Twitter. Based on Twitter, traders don’t play a task in managing the corporate’s day-to-day enterprise.

The European Saudi Group for Human Rights condemned Shehab’s sentence, which it stated was the longest jail sentence to ever be introduced in opposition to any activist. It famous that many feminine activists have been subjected to unfair trials which have led to arbitrary sentences and have been subjected to “extreme torture”, together with sexual harassment.

Khalid Aljabri, a Saudi who resides in exile and whose sister and brother are being held within the kingdom, stated the Shehab case proved Saudi Arabia’s view that dissent equates to terrorism.

“Salma’s draconian sentencing in a terrorism courtroom over peaceable tweets is the newest manifestation of MBS’s ruthless repression machine,” he stated, referring to the crown prince. “Similar to [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s assassination, her sentencing is meant to ship shock waves inside and out of doors the dominion – dare to criticise MBS and you’ll find yourself dismembered or in Saudi dungeons.”

Whereas the case has not acquired widespread consideration, the Washington Submit on Tuesday printed a scathing editorial about Saudi Arabia’s therapy of the Leeds pupil and stated her case confirmed that “commitments” the president had acquired on reforms had been “a farce”.

“On the very least, Mr. Biden should now converse out forcefully and demand that Ms. Shehab be launched and allowed to return to her sons, 4 and 6 years outdated, in the UK, and to renew her research there,” it learn.

Further reporting by Robyn Vinter in Leeds


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