Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi woman sentenced to 34 years in prison for using Twitter alleged that she was being abused and harassed during her detention. Shehab also said she was being “repeatedly accosted” by a group of men for belonging to the Shia Muslim community.
The 34-year-old is a PhD student at Leeds University and was accused of using Twitter to “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”. The special terrorist court that awarded her the jail term claimed that Shehab supported terrorist ideology based on her Twitter usage. Shehab had retweeted and followed some dissidents and activists. The court sentenced her to 34 years in prison and gave her a 34-year travel ban.
Salma al-Shehab Alleges Abuse
According to a translation of Shehab’s statement to the court, she made several allegations of rights violation, backing her claim with provisions in Saudi law that prevented “emotional or mental harming”. Shehab said that at least five men repeatedly accosted her for being a member of the Shia Muslim minority. She said that their actions led to an “outright insult and abuse of human dignity”.
The statement suggested that Shehab faced physical or sexual violence but no detailed allegations of that nature were made. She also alleged that she was not given access to a lawyer after her initial arrest in January 2021 and was held for 285 days before being referred to court. Under the law, she should have been released after 180 days.
Shehab also alleged that she was held in solitary confinement for 13 days and was denied visits and phone calls from her family. One of the interrogators threatened Shehab with the “cancellation” of her studies. Shehab added that the investigator wanted her to write in her statement that she was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, considered a terrorist organisation in several Arab states including Saudi Arabia.
Shehab asked, “How can the investigator allow himself the opportunity to add in his own personal opinions?” She requested that the court looked into the “manner of investigation” used against her. Shebah alleged that the investigation included “corrupt practices” and “statements contrary to the free will of detainees.”