Saudi Arabia: In a mockery of justice, human rights defender Salma Al-Shehab sentenced to 34 years in prison
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) condemns the inhuman and unfair sentence of 34 years in prison against human rights defender Salma Al-Shehab for her online activities, noting that it is the heaviest sentence that any peaceful activist has ever received.
Her Twitter account, which she used in particular to demonstrate her belief in the justice of the Palestinian cause and to defend prisoners of conscience, has the following phrase and hashtags in its header:
Life is belief and struggle.
The pinned tweet, which she published on 30 August 2019, said, "I reject injustice, and support the oppressed.... Freedom for prisoners of conscience and for all the oppressed in the world."
On 20 December 2020, she tweeted, "Freedom for the inmates of patriarchy, shame on the jailer!"
Al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two children, is a specialist in oral and human health. She was studying for a PhD at the University of Leeds in Britain in her field of specialisation, and she previously obtained a master's degree from King Saud University in Riyadh.
On 09 August 2022, the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal issued a sentence of 34 years’ imprisonment against her, in addition to banning her from traveling for a similar period after completing her sentence. This unjust sentence relates only to her peaceful and civilised activities on Twitter.
Among several charges, the Public Prosecution charged her with "destabilising the security of society and the stability of the state", "spreading sedition", "providing aid to those who seek to disrupt public order" and "spreading false and malicious rumours on Twitter". The Law of Combating Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing of 2017, and the Anti-Cyber Crime Law of 2007 were used in the recent harsh verdict against her.
On 15 January 2021, Al-Shehab was arrested after going to Saudi Arabia to spend the holiday with her family. She was subjected to ill-treatment during her arrest and for long hours of daily investigation over a period of nine and a half months. After that, her trial began before the Specialised Criminal Court, the terrorism court established in 2008 to try members of terrorist organisations, but often used to imprison human rights defenders. She was initially sentenced to six years in prison in 2021.
It is worth noting that she was not allowed to hire a lawyer throughout the strenuous investigation stage, in flagrant violation of Article 4 of the Saudi Law of Criminal Procedure.
GCHR believes that this ruling, which does not serve justice, is in reality a message of threats and intimidation, sent by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is in control of the country now, to all Internet activists that this will be the fate of everyone who uses social media. Expressing in a civilised and peaceful way one’s views that support human rights in the country, and defending the innocent prisoners of opinion who are crowded in prisons, will be heavily punished.
GCHR is deeply concerned about the fate of other women detainees, such as Dr. Lina Al-Sharif, after this ruling, which lacked minimum international standards for fair trial and legal procedures. There is strong reason to believe that other online activists may suffer decades-long sentences as well.
GCHR urges all international mechanisms, including those of the United Nations, the European Union, countries that have influence in Saudi Arabia, especially the United Kingdom and the United States of America, to put human rights first in all their dealings with the Saudi government, and to put all possible pressures to secure the release of courageous woman human rights defender Salma Al-Shehab and all other and all other prisoners of conscience.