Saudi Woman Sentenced to 34 Years in Prison for Using Twitter

Salma al-Shehab

A Saudi citizen studying in the UK has been sentenced to 34 years in prison, after being arrested on her return to the kingdom on holiday over the contents of a Twitter account she had registered whilst abroad.

Salma al-Shehab was initially sentenced to serve three years in prison over allegations of using the social media account to “cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security”, having retweeted several activists and dissidents. But prosecutors asked an appeals court to consider other alleged crimes, leading to the imposition of the new sentence.

The 34-year-old mother of two will also be subject to a 34-year travel ban after she has served her prison sentence.

According to a translation of the court records, the new charges include the allegation that Shehab was “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts” and also by re-tweeting those users. It is believed that Shehab will be able to appeal against her sentence.

The sentencing by Saudi’s special terrorist court comes weeks after US President Joe Biden’s visit to the country, which human rights activists had warned could embolden the kingdom to escalate abuses.

The case also marks the latest example of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman targeting Twitter users with punitive actions, despite the fact he also controls a major indirect stake in the social media firm via Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).