Saudi Arabia: Woman sentenced to 34 years for comments on Twitter

The mother of two was sentenced to serve 34 years in prison

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A Saudi national who was recently sentenced to 34 years in prison for tweeting critical comments about the kingdom's government knew there were people subtly informing the state apparatus of her every activity, but had not taken the threat "seriously." , a friend of hers said yesterday.

A PhD student at the UK's University of Leeds, Salma al-Shebab, 34, was arrested in January 2021 while on holiday in her home country.

The mother of two was sentenced on August 9 to serve 34 years in prison for "helping" dissidents in their attempt to "destabilize the state" by reproducing their tweets.

According to her friend - who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity for his safety - Salma al-Shebab was not taking the threat of the donors "seriously".

"We had discussed the fact that there were people harassing her on Twitter and informing the security services about all her tweets," he said.

"But he didn't think the authorities would be interested in someone who had less than 2.000 followers," he added.

Saudi Arabia has tightened its crackdown on dissent, particularly feminists, since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became its de facto leader in 2017. The regime's most ardent supporters often bully and denounce critical voices on Twitter.

The authorities have created the "Amn Pillar" app, whose name in Arabic can be loosely translated as "we are all security agents". The app, which "allows citizens and residents to take on the role of a police officer," makes it possible to report crimes or accidents — and also the ability to report opponents of the government.

A Shiite in a majority-Sunni country, Salma al-Shebab, who has about 2.600 followers on her social media account (@I_Salma1988), has been tweeting in Arabic mostly about women's rights in the ultraconservative Gulf kingdom.

Her conviction came just weeks after US President Joe Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia, which was criticized for the kingdom's flagrant human rights abuses.

Washington assures that it often raises the issue of freedoms in its contacts with Riyadh, and State Department spokesman Ned Price said yesterday that "defending women's rights should not be criminalized."

Amnesty International denounced her "scandalous" conviction and demanded that the authorities release Salma Al-Shabaab.

The University of Leeds said it was "concerned" and would seek to offer her help.

Source: RES-EAP