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Saudi woman, jailed for 34 years for freedom tweets, alleges abuses in detention

RIYADH, Aug 20: A Saudi woman has been jailed for 34 years for sharing her views on freedom on Twitter. Salma al-Shehab, a PhD student, has now told a Saudi court that she, a minority Shia Muslim, is facing abuses and threats in detention.

Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University PhD student in the UK, was charged with following and retweeting dissidents. She was arrested while visiting her home in January 2021 and sentenced to six years in jail. The sentence was later raised to a record 34 years by a special terrorist court. The charges against her included sedition.

Her tweets had advocated more freedom for women in Saudia Arabia and supported freedom of speech.

In the statement in the court, Shehab had alleged that after her initial arrest in January 2021, she was not given access to a lawyer and was kept illegally for 285 days before being sent to court.

The harsh sentence has attracted international attention.

"Human rights is central to our agenda," Ned Price, spokesperson for US Department of State, which is monitoring the case, said. "It's a violation of the freedom of expression which we stand up for around the world," he said. A woman cannot be criminalised.

Reacting to the kingdom's crackdown on dissent, human rights groups said the case of Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two, shows the situation for women's rights in Saudi Arabia "is not improving, but getting worse by the day."

A spokesperson from the University of Leeds said in a statement: “We are deeply concerned to learn of this recent development in Salma’s case and we are seeking advice on whether there is anything we can do to support her. Our thoughts remain with Salma, her family, and her friends among our close-knit community of postgraduate researchers.”

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