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Saudi doctoral student jailed for 34 years for tweet

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The Associated Press

Associated Press

Isabelle Debre

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Saudi court retweeted dissidents, according to court documents obtained on Twitter and Thursday. As a result, there is growing worldwide condemnation.

Activists and lawyers consider the verdict against Salma Al-Shehab, a mother of two and a researcher at the University of Leeds in the UK, shocking even by Saudi judicial standards.

Saudi Arabia has previously denied that women have the right to drive and other rights in the ultra-conservative Islamic state as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman cracks down on dissenters. This sentence was handed down even though it gave them new freedoms.

According to her initiative Freedom, a Washington-based human rights organization, Al Her Shehab will leave her family in January 2021, days before she is due to return to the UK. detained while on vacation in

Al-Shehab told a judge that she had been in prison for more than 285 days before her case went to court, she said, legal documents obtained by AP show. .

The Freedom Initiative describes al-Shehab as a member of Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslim minority. Shia Muslims have long complained of systemic discrimination in the Sunni-dominated kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia has shown the world that it is improving women's rights and reforming its laws, but the fact that the situation is only getting worse raises doubts about this disgusting ruling. There is no room," Bethany Al-Haydari said. Saudi Arabia case manager of the group.

Since coming to power in 2017, Prince Mohammed has accelerated efforts to diversify the kingdom's economy away from oil with major tourism projects. rice field. Over 100 miles in the desert. But it has faced criticism not only for dissidents and activists, but also for arresting disobedient people, including princes and businessmen.

The judge accused al-Shehab of "disturbing public order" and "destabilizing the fabric of society," according to the official indictment. The allegations are attributed solely to her social media activity. They claimed that al-Shehab followed and retweeted her dissident account on Twitter and she "spread a hoax."

The Special Tribunal for Terrorism and National Security Crimes gave her an unusually harsh 34-year sentence, followed by a 34-year travel ban. The decision came earlier this month as al-Shehab appealed her six-year original sentence.

"The (six-year) prison sentence imposed on the defendant was light given her crimes," the state prosecutor told the Court of Appeals. "As her following and retweeting (Twitter) accounts show, I call on the statement to be amended in light of her support for those seeking to cause chaos and destabilize society." 46}

The Saudi government in Riyadh and the Saudi embassies in Washington and London did not respond to requests for comment.

The University of Leeds has confirmed Al Shehab is in her final year of her doctoral program at her medical school.

"We are deeply concerned about this recent development in Salma's case and are seeking advice on what we can do to support her.

Al-Shehab's ruling drew Washington's attention, and the State Department said Wednesday it was "investigating the incident."

"The use of free expression to defend women's rights should not, and never should, be criminalized," said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Last month, US President Joe Biden said he visited the oil-rich kingdom to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed and raise human rights issues. Their meeting — and the much-criticized fist-fighting — took a sharp turn after Mr. Biden's previous vows to make the kingdom an "outcast" over the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. showed a change of direction.

On appeal, Al-Shehab said a harsh sentence equated to "the destruction of me, my family, my future, and the future of my children." and her two boys who are 6 years old.

She told the judge that "out of her curiosity and to observe the point of view of others," followers only retweeted posts from her personal account with 2,000 or fewer followers. He said he had no idea. , composed terrorism.

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His AP writer Matthew Lee from Washington contributed to this report.