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31st Aug 2022

Woman sentenced to 45 years in prison over Twitter posts

April Curtin

A Leeds Uni PHD student was recently sentenced for similar activity

Another woman from Saudi Arabia has been put in prison for more than four decades over posts she put out on social media.

Norah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was convicted of “using the interest to tear the (Saudi) social fabric” and “violating public order by using social media,” court documents seen by human rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn) show.

She is likely to have been convicted within the last week by Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court.

However details surrounding Qahtani, including her age and what exactly she said on social media, remains unknown. That’s why Washington-based organisation Dawn is investigating her case.

Qahtani’s sentencing comes only weeks after mother-of-two and Leeds University doctoral candidate Salma al-Shebab was sentenced to 34 years in prison, after she followed and retweeted activists and dissidents on Twitter. She also got a 34-year travel ban.

Shebab told the Saudi court she had faced abuse and harassment while in detention, including interrogation after being given medication that exhausted her.

The convictions have raised the alarm in other countries. On Monday, US officials said “significant concerns” had been discussed with Saudi Arabia following Sheba’s sentencing.

Abdullah al-Aoudh, Director of Research for the Gulf Region at DAWN, said “abusive” laws have been used to imprison Qahtani and Shehab for criticising the government on social media.

“But this is only half the story,” he said, “because even the crown prince would not allow such vindictive and excessive sentences if he felt that these actions would be met by meaningful censure by the United States and other Western governments.

“Clearly, they are not,” he added.

Officials in Saudi Arabia have dismissed such claims.

Speaking to Reuters last month,  Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said: “We have prisoners in Saudi Arabia who have committed crimes and who were put to trial by our courts and were found guilty.”

He said the idea of describing them as political prisoners was “ridiculous.”

JOE contacted the Saudi government media office for comment.

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