Biden Bumpfist Emboldens MBS: Saudi Mother of Two Sentenced to 34 Years for Using Twitter
A Saudi mother who was studying at a UK university was sentenced to 34 years in prison when she returned home for vacation. Her “crime” was owning a Twitter account and sharing her views on human rights.
Salma al-Shehab used the social media platform while studying for a doctoral degree at the University of Leeds School of Medicine in the United Kingdom, and followed and retweeted dissidents and activists.
The sentencing, handed down the Gulf Kingdom’s special terrorist court, comes weeks after President Joe Biden bumped fists with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, outraging critics who believed the U.S. president when he labeled MBS “pariah” after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The visit, and the intimate greeting, was seen by some human rights activists as a greenlight to the crown prince to take his crackdown on dissidents up a notch.
Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), also controls a major indirect stake in the social media fund.
Shehab was initially sentenced to serve six years in prison, but after her appeal, she was given 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban.
Shehab wasn’t particularly good at being an activist, or else wasn’t trying. She only has 2,000 followers on Twitter and 159 on Instagram, where she describes herself as a dental hygienist, PhD student at Leeds University and lecturer at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, as well as a mother to Noah and Adam.
On Twitter, she mostly posted benign updates about coronavirus burnout or pictures of her children, with the occasional retweet by Saudi dissidents living in exile.
A spokesperson from the University of Leeds said in a statement:
We are deeply concerned to learn of this recent development in Salma’s case and we are seeking advice on whether there is anything we can do to support her. Our thoughts remain with Salma, her family, and her friends among our close-knit community of postgraduate researchers.
According to The Guardian, since her arrest in January 2021, Shehab has at times been held in solitary confinement and during her trial had asked to speak privately with the judge about her treatment, because she did not want to say what had been done to her in front of her father.
She was denied from doing so, the report said.