Salma Al-Shehab, First Woman Convicted By Saudi Arabian Government For Her Tweet
Salma al-Shehab has been punished by Saudi Arabia for her tweets. (photo: igihe doc)

JAKARTA - A Saudi woman has been sentenced to 34 years in prison for retweeting activists through her Twitter account. She is also accused of sharing posts supporting women's right to drive.

The woman, Salma al-Shehab, is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds in the UK and was detained in January 2021 after returning to Saudi Arabia for a holiday.

Shehab was initially sentenced to six years for using social media to "disturb public order and destabilize the country's security and stability," based on re-shared tweets from Saudi activists living in exile. They have been calling for the release of political prisoners in the kingdom.

The incident was reported in the editorial board section of The Washington Post, which called it "another glimpse at the brutality of the Saudi dictator under the crown prince and de facto head of state, Mohammed bin Salman."

Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, was found by US intelligence agencies to have directly approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

The Post reported that prosecutors on appeal for Shehab's case are demanding tougher sentences under Saudi cybercrime and counter-terrorism laws, leading to a drastic increase in the 34-year sentence, which was handed down on August 8.

The non-profit Freedom Initiative, which advocates for the rights of detainees held in the Middle East, said this was the longest known sentence for a women's rights activist in Saudi Arabia.

The draconian punishment is another reminder of the ongoing threat Saudi activists face, especially those who openly advocate for change. In July, President Joe Biden came under heavy criticism from human rights groups for his trip to Saudi Arabia.

Yet this is a journey he deems necessary to secure access to energy resources and strategic trade routes in the region. On that trip, Biden claimed to have informed Saudi officials that he held MBS responsible for Khashoggi's killing, although various sources dispute this claim.

In the Shehab case report, The Guardian notes that MBS indirectly controls a large stake in Twitter through the Saudi sovereign wealth investment fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF). Twitter has not yet issued any statement regarding this case.

Another well-known Twitter shareholder also has ties to the Saudi fortune: a text message disclosed as part of a Tesla shareholder lawsuit reveals that Elon Musk believes PIF will help him make Tesla a private company in 2018.

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