Saudi women’s rights campaigner Salma al-Shehab was a Ph.D. student at England’s Leeds University in January 2021, when she was arrested and questioned for almost a year before being brought to Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court.
What was her crime?
The charges against her included “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.” Late last year, al-Shehab was sentenced to a 6year jail term, but after the 33-year-old mother of two filed an appeal, her sentence was increased to 34 years.
Yes, you read that right, and that’s not all. She was also banned from traveling outside Saudi Arabia for another 34 years. Her sister Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent activist, was arrested in 2018 and later sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in jail for opposing the Kingdom’s now-rescinded law barring women from driving. Al-Hathloul said her sister’s sentence “makes a mockery of the Saudi authorities’ claims of reform for women and of the legal system.”
Will the judgment stand?
Well, unless something unusual happens. Leeds University has condemned the ruling and said it is currently studying the situation to see if there’s any way it can intervene. The judgement has also not escaped the attention of Washington, whose State Department says it is studying the judgement. Speaking on the subject, the State Department spokesperson, Ned Price said, “exercising freedom of expression to advocate for the rights of women should not be criminalized”, and added that the U.S’ engagement with Saudi Arabia has made it clear “that human rights are central to our agenda”.