GENEVA - The UN human rights office, OHCHR, expressed outrage on Friday over a 34-year prison sentence handed down to a Saudi woman charged with following and retweeting so-called dissidents and activists.

The UN human rights office, OHCHR, expressed outrage on Friday over a prison sentence spanning more than three decades handed down to a Saudi woman charged with following and retweeting so-called dissidents and activists.

Doctoral student Salma Al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in jail, followed by a 34-year travel ban in connection with a series of tweets and retweets on political and human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell said in a statement.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to quash her conviction and release her immediately and unconditionally,” she said.

“She should never have been arrested and charged in the first place for such conduct”.

‘Chilling’ repercussions

The extraordinarily lengthy sentence adds to “the chilling effect” among Government critics and civil society at large, the statement continued, describing it as “yet another example of Saudi authorities weaponizing the country’s counter-terrorism and anti-cybercrime laws to target, intimidate and retaliate against human rights defenders and those who voice dissent”.

The mother of two young children, Ms. Al-Shehab, 34, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2021 while on holiday from her studies at Leeds University in the United Kingdom.

She was accused of spreading false information and aiding dissidents seeking to disrupt public order with her tweets, retweets and follows on Twitter.

News reports have pointed out that the case marks the latest example of how the country has targeted Twitter users in a campaign of repression, while simultaneously controlling a major indirect stake in the United States social media company.

Journalists have also observed that the sentencing by Saudi’s special terrorist court was handed down weeks after US President Joe Biden visited Saudi Arabia, which human rights activists had warned could embolden the kingdom to escalate its crackdown on dissidents and other pro-democracy activists.

Call for release

“Saudi Arabia must not only release Al-Shehab so that she can re-join her family, but also review all convictions stemming from free expression against human rights defenders, including women who were jailed after they legitimately demanded reforms of discriminatory policies, as well as religious leaders and journalists,” said Ms. Throssell.

OHCHR also urged the Saudi Government to establish “a robust legislative framework in line with international human rights law” to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and association, and the right of peaceful assembly for all.

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UN agriculture agency helps protect against threat of locusts in Yemen

ROME - Following heavy widespread rains in Yemen, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) remains on high alert as the threat of desert locust emergence looms, the UN agency said on Wednesday.

To avert losses triggered by the voracious pest, FAO recently delivered various equipment and machinery to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Fisheries (MAIF) in Aden.

And under the World Bank funded Yemen Desert Locust Response project, another consignment is expected to be handed over to Sana’a soon.

“The project, together with other interventions we are implementing in the country, demonstrate FAO’s commitment to better nutrition and food security, which is linked to sustainable production and decent livelihoods,” said FAO’s country representative, Hussein Gadain.

Pivotal testimony

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Mr. Gadain described the World Bank-funded project as testimony to FAO’s pivotal role in reducing malnutrition and food insecurity in Yemen through efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agri-food systems.

“This will ensure healthy diets for everyone in Yemen,” he said.

“Additionally, it is noteworthy that through this project, we intend to improve the infrastructure and strengthen the national capacity for early warning and early response,” he continued, referring to the construction of desert locust control centres and implementation of pesticide management systems.

Building resilience

The project is also designed to build farmers’ resilience to climate-induced locust infestations and improve the country's preparedness and institutional capacity against locust outbreaks.

This will be done by establishing the desert locust network, including desert locust centres in Sana’a and Aden.

Additionally, sub-centres will be constructed in Hadiyah, Shabwah, and Hadramaut.

Critical machinery handover

The machinery that was handed over includes four types of spraying utensils, each targeting a specific type of locust infestation and working under specific conditions.

They can spray Ultra-Low Volume pesticides, which are applied at a rate of one litre per hectare, and can handle both chemical and biological insect repellents.

The machinery includes a vehicle-mounted sprayer for trees and bushes that can treat 100 to 120 hectares a day, motorized knapsack sprayers for smaller infested areas, and a handheld sprayer for small, targeted locust infestations that treats 10 hectares per day.

Protective equipment

Personal equipment for up to 4,000 people – such as overalls, masks, goggles, caps, boots, and gloves – was also handed over to protect operators during pesticide spraying.

Equipment to establish temporary camps for up to 200 people was also provided for remote desert areas during the locust control campaigns, including tents, camping beds, cookware, sleeping bags, water containers, and small generators.

The equipment comes on the back of intensive training with the participation of MAIF staff in Aden, which touched on surveying desert locust; controlling and safely using pesticides; and environmental health and safety on sprayer maintenance.

Funding agriculture restoration

In the face of ever-increasing food and nutrition insecurity in Yemen, the World Bank-funded project is one of FAO’s various interventions to help rebuild and restore agricultural productivity and create livelihood opportunities.

To help achieve this, FAO seeks to raise $50 million to reach 1.5 million vulnerable people in Yemen.

Today, only $28.8 million has been raised.