Salma al-Shebab: Leeds University Student Jailed For 34 Years in Saudi Arabia for Having Twitter Account And Following Dissident Activists

Al-Shebab's sentencing was based on comments she made on social media in support of women's rights campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul and calling for her release.

A Leeds University student who returned home to Saudi Arabia for a holiday has been jailed for 34 years for having a Twitter account and for following and retweeting posts of dissident activists. Salma al-Shebab, 34, was charged with using Twitter to "create unrest and destabilize civil and national security" after tweeting about women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

According to The Daily Mail, Al-Shebab's sentence was increased from six years to 34 years in prison by a Saudi terrorism court after she appealed her conviction. Al-Shebab has two young sons who are four and six years old. She will also face a 34-year travel ban upon her release.

No Country for Women

Salma al-Shebab
Salma al-Shebab Twitter

During her sentencing, the court referred to Al Shebab's tweets in support of women's rights in Saudi Arabia and referenced her social media activities. The mother, whose two sons are four and six years old, also asked for the release of prisoners of conscience like Loujain al-Hathloul, according to the Daily Mail.

She drew the ire of the Saudi Arabian regime, resulting in this harsh sentencing. She would occasionally repost tweets from exiled activists who were in disagreement.

Salma al-Shebab
Salma al-Shebab with her husband and two children Twitter

Al-Shebab was arrested in January 2021, while on holiday, after she retweeted a post from Al-Hathloul's sister Lina which read: "Freedom for Loujain Al-Hathloul ... Freedom for all prisoners of conscience. Your freedom is my first wish for this New Year - Happy New Year."

She was accused of "providing succor to those seeking to disrupt public order and undermine the safety of the general public and stability of the state, and publishing false and tendentious rumors on Twitter."

Loujain al Hathloul
Loujain al Hathloul driving a car in Saudi Arabia YouTube Grab

It's believed that al-Shehab's religious identity as a Shi'a Muslim resulted in both her arrest and prison term.

Living In a Strange Country

Dr Bethany Al-Haidari, the Saudi case manager at the US-based human rights organization, who spoke to the outlet said: "Saudi Arabia has boasted to the world that they are improving women's rights and creating legal reform, but there is no question with this abhorrent sentence that the situation is only getting worse."

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia Pixabay

"It is unfortunately no surprise that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman feels more empowered than ever in presiding over such egregious rights violations," Al-Haidari added.

Al-Shebab's sentencing was based on comments she made on social media in support of women's rights campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul and calling for her release.

"Though Salma was initially sentenced to 6-years in the first instance court, the sentence was increased to 34 years during the appeal. This is the longest known sentence for a women's rights activist in Saudi Arabia."

Salma al-Shebab
Salma al-Shebab Twitter

Al-Hathloul, who is still wrongfully detained in Saudi Arabia as a result of a travel prohibition, was freed from jail only a few weeks after Al-Shebab was taken into custody.

Al-Shebab was arrested just a few days before she was scheduled to return to England to finish her PhD studies at the University of Leeds.

"It is ironic that while Loujain's release was celebrated, Salma remained behind bars on the ground that she called for that very release. It's a pattern for Saudi authorities to ensure that women activists can't celebrate or take credit for any of their hard-won victories," Al-Haidari said.