A Saudi woman was quietly sentenced to over three decades in prison last week over tweets critical of the way women are treated in the country, according to reports.
Salma al-Shehab, 33, was sentenced to 34 years in prison after the Saudi government concluded that she used her social media platform to “to disrupt public order, undermine the security of society and stability of the state, and support those who had committed criminal actions according to the counterterrorism law and its financing,” according to court records obtained by The Washington Post.
Shehab was active on social media, posting opposition to Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, which gives men control over the lives of women in many areas, and she also called for the kingdom to free prisoners of conscience.
Court documents allege that Shehab supported persecuted individuals “by following their social media accounts and rebroadcasting their tweets.”
Shehab had initially been sentenced to six years in prison in 2021 but after she appealed the decision, the court found that the prison sentence was insufficient “considering her crimes” and increased the punishment to 34 years, which human rights groups say is the longest ever against a peaceful activist.
“The sentence issued against Salma Al-Shehab is unprecedented and dangerous,” the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights said in a statement. “In recent years, many women activists have been subjected to unfair trials that have led to arbitrary sentences, in addition to some of them being subjected to severe torture, including sexual harassment.”
In addition to the prison sentence, Shehab faces a 34-year travel ban that goes into effect upon her release.
The sentence also requires Shehab to shut down her Twitter account, which some human rights groups are trying to prevent.
“Now we’re working with Twitter not to close it or to make them aware that at least if they’re asked to close it, it comes from the Saudi government and not from her,” Lina al-Hathloul, head of monitoring and communications at ALQST, a London-based Saudi rights group, told The Washington Post.
The Twitter page, which remains active, currently shows a pinned tweet asking God to assist her in rejecting injustice that ends with the words “freedom to the prisoners of conscience and to every oppressed person in the world.”