34-year-old Saudi woman, Salma al-Shehab has been sentenced to 34 years in prison for using Twitter and following and retweeting activists and dissidents.
The mother of two, who had been living in the UK since 2018 and was pursuing her PhD at Leeds University, was arrested in December 2020 while on vacation in the kingdom. Shehab was not a vocal activist. To her 2,597 followers on Twitter, she occasionally retweeted tweets by activists and dissidents living in exile.
According to court documents, Shehab was initially sentenced to three years in prison for using the internet to “cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security.” The sentence was increased to 34 years by an appeals court, plus a 34-year travel ban after a prosecutor asked the court to consider other allegations.
The court documents say that the new allegations include that she was “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts.”
Twitter is yet to comment on this story. There have been concerns that Saudi Arabia has some influence over Twitter’s decision, considering crown prince Mohamed Bin Salman has an indirect stake in the company through the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).