Saudi woman given 45 years in prison for her social media posts

A Saudi court has given a woman 45 years in prison for social media posts, a watchdog said, in latest example of crackdown on women activists,  following a visit by US President Joe Biden to the Kingdom, reported Reuters.

Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani has been convicted of ‘using the internet to tear [Saudi Arabia’s] social fabric’, Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn) revealed to the Guardian.

Nourah bint Saeed Al-Qahtani was convicted “likely within last week” by the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court on charges of “using the internet to tear the (Saudi) social fabric” and “violating public order by using social media”, according to Washington-based DAWN, citing court documents.

Also, “Prisoners of Conscience” Twitter account tweeted saying: It was confirmed to us that the Court of Appeals issued a prison sentence against the detainee, Nourah Bint Saeed Al-Qahtani, to 45 years in prison for “violating public order by using social media.”

DAWN said little was known about Qahtani or what her social media posts said, and that it was continuing to investigate her case.

Qahtani’s conviction came a few weeks after Salma Al-Shehab, a mother of two and doctoral candidate at the University of Leeds in Britain was sentenced to 35 years in jail for following and re-tweeting dissidents and activists on Twitter.

The latest cases came after Biden cited human rights concerns, a major sore point in relations between Washington and its traditional ally, Riyadh, during his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in July.

Washington said last week it had raised “significant concerns” with Saudi Arabia over Shehab’s sentencing, which included a 34-year travel ban for her tweets.

The Qahtani and Shehab cases underscored a crackdown on dissent driven by Prince Mohammed, the de facto Saudi ruler, even as he has championed reforms such as allowing women to drive and pushed projects to create jobs.

Hayam Almones commented on Salma Shehab’s 34 sentence, in a tweet, saying, “Laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are against human rights. The Saudi court sentenced Mrs. Salma Shehab to 34 years in prison for several tweets in support of Saudi women”.

Relatives of Saudi political prisoners were initially hoping Biden’s visit would help bring about the release of loved ones that have been jailed as part of the crackdown.

Abdullah Al-Aoudh, Director of Research for the Gulf Region at DAWN, said that in both the Shehab and Qahtani cases, Saudi authorities used “abusive” laws to target and punish Saudi citizens for criticising the government on Twitter.

Abdullah Alaoudh, Dawn’s Gulf director, said Qahtani appears to have been sentenced for “simply tweeting her opinions”.

“It is impossible not to connect the dots between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s meeting with President Biden last month in Jeddah and the uptick in the repressive attacks against anyone who dares criticise the crown prince or the Saudi government for well-documented abuses,” Alaoudh said.

Saudi officials say the Kingdom does not have political prisoners. “We have prisoners in Saudi Arabia who have committed crimes and who were put to trial by our courts and were found guilty,” the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al-Jubeir, told Reuters last month.

“The notion that they would be described as political prisoners is ridiculous,” he added.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said the Biden administration has raised “significant concerns” with Saudi authorities about Shehab’s case.

“We have made the point to them that freedom of expression is a universal human right to which all people are entitled and exercising those universal rights should never be criminalized,” Price told reporters.

Tensions over oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s human rights record have strained its ties with the United States, including over women’s rights and the 2018 murder and dismemberment of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.