Saudi activist sentenced to 34 years in prison for Twitter activity

Al-Shehab, 33, has been banned from traveling outside Saudi Arabia for another 34 years.

According to independent human rights organization ALQST, the PhD student at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom was arrested in January 2021 and interrogated over a period of 265 days before being brought before a special criminal court.

She was given a six-year sentence late last year – which was increased to 34 years after Al-Shehab appealed, according to the documents.

ALQST said among the charges filed against him by the public prosecution are “providing assistance to those who wish to disrupt public order and undermine public safety and stability of the state, and publishing false and tendentious rumors on Twitter”.

Al Shehab told the court that without prior warning, she was “driven” into a months-long investigation, according to court documents.

The mother of two asked the court to take into account the need to care for her children and her ailing mother, the documents said.

Lina al-Hathloul, ALQST’s head of monitoring and communications, told CNN that al-Shehab was arrested for supporting his sister, Louzain al-Hathloul — who has spent more than 1,000 days in jail since the May 2018 sweep. Opponents of the Empire’s then-repealed law barring women from driving and other prisoners of conscience took to Twitter.

In an ALQST statement, Lina al-Hathloul said al-Shehab’s sentence “makes a mockery of the Saudi authorities’ claims for women and the reform of the legal system”, “showing that they are hell-bent on severely punishing anyone who expresses their views freely.”

He demanded that the Saudi government release al-Shehab and demanded that the kingdom protect freedom of speech.

Al-Shehab’s Twitter account remained online with a pinned tweet: “Freedom for prisoners of conscience and all the oppressed of the world.”

The US State Department said on Wednesday it was “studying” the case.

“But I can say it’s a general thing, and I can say it without reservation and emphatically: exercising freedom of expression to advocate for women’s rights should not be a crime,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing with reporters.

Asked if he was emboldened by recent U.S. engagements with the country of Saudi Arabia, Price responded, “Our engagement…has made it clear…human rights are central to our agenda.”

Reporting contributed by CNN’s Kylie Atwood.

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