A researcher at Leeds University, Salma al-Shehab, has been sentenced to 34 years in prison for spreading “rumors” and retweeting dissidents on social media. Saudi Arabia is known for its harsh punishments under Islamic Sharia law, but this sentence has shocked even those familiar with the kingdom’s draconian laws. It appears that the Saudi Sharia-based system has moved into the Internet age with grotesque sentences applied to retweets. Al-Shehab was originally given six years but, when she appealed, a national security court increased her punishment to 34 years.
The doctoral student and mother to two was arrested while visiting Saudi Arabia as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown on dissent. This case was pending when President Joe Biden came to Saudi Arabia and fist bumped the man who also murdered U.S. journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Biden went to the Kingdom to ask for more oil.
Al-Shehab was jailed for over 285 days before her case was even referred to court. She is a Shiite and has protested the treatment of the minority Shia population in the Sunni Kingdom.
She was accused of “disturbing public order” and “destabilizing the social fabric” by following and retweeting dissident accounts on Twitter and spreading “false rumors.”
A special court for terrorism and national security crimes not only sentenced her to 34 years in prison but imposed an additional 34-year travel ban.
Her account only had 2,000 followers, including apparently the Saudi security services.