According to the independent human rights organization ALQST, a PhD student at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom was arrested in January 2021 and interrogated for 265 days before being taken to the Specialized Criminal Court.
Initially, she was sentenced late last year to six years in prison – according to the documents, this term was increased to 34 years after Al-Shehab filed an appeal.
The prosecution charges against her included “providing assistance to those who are trying to disrupt public order and undermine the security of the population and the stability of the state, as well as the publication of false and tendentious rumors on Twitter,” ALQST said in a statement.
Al-Shehab told the court that, without prior warning, she was “pushed” into a months-long investigation during which she was held in solitary confinement, according to court documents.
The mother-of-two also asked the court to take into account the need to care for her children and her sick mother, the documents say.
ALQST’s head of monitoring and communications, Lina al-Hathloul, told CNN that al-Shehab was arrested for supporting her sister, Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent activist who spent more than 1,000 days in jail after a May 2018 sweep targeting well-known opponents recently. a repealed kingdom law banning women from driving, and other prisoners of conscience on Twitter.
Lina Al-Khatloul said in a statement to ALQST that al-Shehab’s sentencing “pokes fun at the Saudi authorities’ demands for reform for women and the legal system,” adding that it “shows that they remain obsessed with severely punishing anyone who expresses their opinion freely.” “.
They called on the Saudi government to release al-Shehab and demanded that the kingdom protect freedom of speech.
Al-Shehab’s Twitter account remains online with an attached tweet that reads: “Freedom for prisoners of conscience and all the oppressed of the world.”
On Wednesday, the US State Department said it was “looking into” the case.
“But I can say that this is a general issue, and I can say it without any reservations and emphatically: exercising free speech to protect women’s rights should not be criminalized,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing.
Asked if Saudi Arabia has been encouraged by recent U.S. relations with the country, Price responded that “our engagement … has made it clear … that human rights are at the center of our agenda.”
Reporting provided by Kylie Atwood of CNN.