UN Urges Saudi Arabia to Release Woman Arrested for Tweets

Saudi doctoral student Salma Al-Shehab pictured with her husband and two sons. Photo: UN / European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights
Saudi doctoral student Salma Al-Shehab pictured with her husband and two sons. Photo: UN / European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights

The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) expressed its anguish over a 34-year prison sentence handed down to a Saudi woman charged with following and retweeting the alleged dissidents and activists.

A UN Human Rights Spokesperson Liz Throssell issued a statement on August 19 to reveal that doctoral student Salma Al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in jail, followed by a 34-year travel ban in connection with a series of tweets and retweets on political and human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to quash her conviction and release her immediately and unconditionally. She should never have been arrested and charged in the first place for such conduct,” said Liz Throssell. 

Al-Shehab, 34, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2021 while on holiday from the United Kingdom, where she is a student. She was accused of spreading false information and aiding dissidents seeking to disrupt public order with her tweets, retweets and follows on Twitter.

The UN statement added that the extraordinarily lengthy sentence adds to the chilling effect among Government critics and civil society at large and is yet another example of Saudi authorities weaponizing the country’s counter-terrorism and anti-cybercrime laws to target, intimidate and retaliate against human rights defenders and those who voice dissent.

The UN says that Saudi Arabia must not only release Al-Shehab so that she can rejoin her family, but also review all convictions stemming from free expression against human rights defenders, including women who were jailed after they legitimately demanded reforms of discriminatory policies, as well as religious leaders and journalists. 

The Saudi Government should also establish a robust legislative framework in line with international human rights law to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and association, and the right of peaceful assembly for all, the UN office said in its statement.

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Rakesh Raman