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Saudi Arabia: Release Woman Sentenced To 27 Years For Tweets

Salma al-Shehab © Private
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The Saudi authorities targeted Salma al-Shehab for using Twitter to follow, write about and support women’s rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, who was jailed in 2018 after a grossly unfair trial before the SCC for “spying with foreign parties” and “conspiring against the kingdom.” She was released in February 2021.

In 2022, Amnesty International documented the cases of 15 people who were sentenced to prison terms of between ten and 45 years for peaceful online activities, including the longest sentence believed to ever be imposed on a Saudi woman for peaceful online expression. Saudi Arabia also infiltrated at least one social media company to unlawfully obtain information on dissidents and control the information that is disseminated about the Kingdom online. All 15 individuals were prosecuted by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) which was originally set up to try terrorism cases. The SCC has used vague provisions under the anti-cybercrime and terrorism laws which equate peaceful expression and online activity with “terrorism” to prosecute these individuals. Amnesty International has documented how every stage of the SCC judicial process is tainted by human rights violations. These individuals were subjected to a range of human rights violations during their detention, including being held incommunicado and in solitary confinement, often for months at a time, and denied access to a lawyer throughout their pre-trial detention. Some of them were also subjected to arbitrary travel bans, in contravention of international human rights law.

The crackdown on online expression is only one tool of the Saudi authorities to repress dissent. As of March 2023, Amnesty has documented the cases of 67 individuals who had been prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including human rights defenders, peaceful political activists, journalists, poets, and clerics. Of those, 32 were prosecuted for peacefully expressing their opinions on social media. Amnesty International is aware that the real number of such prosecutions is likely much higher.


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