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News ID: 105754
Publish Date : 15 August 2022 - 21:32
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RIYADH (Middle East Eye) – A Leeds University PhD candidate and mother of two has been sentenced to 34 years in Saudi Arabian prison, the longest sentence ever given to a women’s rights defender in the kingdom, researchers and activists say.
Salma al-Shehab was on holiday in Saudi Arabia in January 2021 and had planned to return to the United Kingdom when she was detained, according to the Freedom Initiative, a Washington, DC-based human rights organization.
Al-Shehab was originally sentenced to six years in prison over tweets she posted calling for rights in the kingdom. But on an appeal last week, a Saudi terrorism court increased the sentence to 34 years, along with a 34-year travel ban, according to the organization.
It’s a ruling that observers say marks an escalation in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown on dissent and a worsening situation for women’s rights despite headline-grabbing reforms in recent years.
“This is irrational, heartbreaking, and disastrous for the hundreds of women detained or to be detained in similar charges of supporting rights or freedom,” tweeted Hala Dosari, a Saudi Arabian activist and scholar.
“This is also reflective of an increased regime insecurity, both domestically and abroad.”
Shehab, who has two sons aged four and six, said during a 2014 interview she gave at the Riyadh International Book Fair that young people should consider how they could best serve their country with their studies.
“Don’t just think how you can serve yourself. Think how you can serve society based on what society needs,” said Shehab, who was studying for a masters in dentistry at the time.
More recently, she was supportive on social media of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was released from prison in February 2021, shortly after Shehab was detained.
Hathloul, who remains under a travel ban, was arrested in May 2018 along with 12 others just weeks before the kingdom’s driving ban on women, which they had long protested against, was lifted, a move researchers have previously told MEE was meant to thwart them from taking any credit for or publicly celebrating the reform.

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