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Saudi court gave appalling sentence of 34 years to Salma al-Shehab

NEW YORK - A Saudi appeals court in early August 2022 dramatically increased the prison sentence of a Saudi doctoral student from 6 years to 34 years based solely on her Twitter activity, Human Rights Watch said today. The sentence is believed to be the longest ever imposed on a Saudi woman for her peaceful online expression.

Salma Al-Shehab was accused of supporting those who "incite terrorism", are undermining the security of society and the stability of the state, by following and retweeting them.

This is an example of Saudi Arabia's use of extreme tactics to silence critics. The authorities clearly feel empowered to crush any dissent and that of Saudi women in particular.

“Even for Saudi Arabia, the 34-year sentence imposed on al-Shehab for peaceful expression is preposterous,” said Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi authorities clearly feel empowered to crush any dissent and Saudi women in particular. The United States, France, and other governments that have diplomatically embraced the kingdom should promptly and publicly condemn this ruling.”

The authorities detained al-Shehab in January 2021 while she was visiting Saudi Arabia and a few days prior to her planned return to the United Kingdom, where she was a PhD candidate in her final year at the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds studying new techniques in oral and dental medicine. Al-Shehab has two children, ages 6 and 4.

Instead of giving Saudi Arabia a blank check to repress human rights, the United States, France, and other governments should condemn the ruling, call for Al- Shebab's release, as well as all arbitrarily detained activists, concludes Human Rights Watch.

Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollars hosting major entertainment, cultural, and sporting events as a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator.

Scores of human rights activists and dissidents remain in prison or on trial for their peaceful criticism. Authorities failed to hold high-level officials accountable for suspected involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Through 2021, the Saudi-led coalition continued a military campaign against the Houthi rebel group in Yemen that has included scores of unlawful airstrikes that have killed and wounded thousands of civilians.