Publish date16 Aug 2022 - 10:58
Story Code : 561669

Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to 34 years in jail

Saudi women’s rights activist has been sentenced to 34 years in prison the longest given to a women’s rights advocate in the Arab kingdom.
Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to 34 years in jail
Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University PhD candidate focused on healthcare and mother of two has been sentenced to 34 years in Saudi Arabian prison, the longest sentence ever given to a women's rights defender in the kingdom, researchers and activists say.

She was on holiday in Saudi Arabia in January 2021 and had planned to return to the UK when  she was detained.

Al-Shehab was originally sentenced to six years in prison over tweets she posted calling for rights in the kingdom. But on an appeal last week, Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court increased the sentence to 34 years, along with a 34-year travel ban.

She may not be alone: since going public about Al-Shehab's sentencing on Friday, The Freedom Initiative's Saudi case manager Bethany Alhaidari said she's heard credible reports of several others whose sentences were also increased dramatically during recent appeals in Saudi Arabian courts.

The verdict has led to much concerns that further lengthy sentences are coming. 

Additionally, at the time of Al-Shehab's arrest in the kingdom's Eastern Province, Alhaidari said, there were reports of hundreds of young women who were also detained. It is unclear if they were charged or what those charges were, but there are indications that many were detained over their use of social media, including retweets or using hashtags, she said.

Observers say the ruling in Al-Shehab's case is a marked escalation in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's crackdown on dissent and reflects a worsening situation for women's rights despite headline-grabbing reforms in recent years.

More recently, she was supportive on social media of women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was released from prison in February 2021, shortly after Shehab was detained.

There are worries among Al-Shehab's supporters, she added, that her sons will be grown men by the time she is let out of prison.

"The Saudi authorities must release Salma and ensure that her young boys do not grow up without a mother simply because she called for freedom for human rights activists," she said.
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