A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a woman to 45 years in prison for her social media posts. Specifically for the use of the network “to break the social fabric of the country” and for “violation of public order”, as denounced by the organization Dawn (Democracy for the Arab world), citing a legal document to which they have had access. “Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani has been sentenced to 45 years for tweeting her views,” says Abdullah Alaoudh, Dawn’s director of research for the area, in an article he has published. The organization believes that the sentence became final “last week”, although the Saudi government has not commented on it. “These actions show how emboldened the Saudi authorities are, punishing the slightest criticism of their citizens,” continues the expert.
On August 9, another Saudi woman was sentenced to 34 years in prison for her Twitter messages. Salma al Shehab, with two children, was preparing her doctorate in the British city of Leeds, where she lived. On January 15, 2021, she traveled to her country on vacation and was arrested. She spent several months in detention, was ill-treated and was not allowed to hire a lawyer before being tried by a court specializing in terrorism offences. “This unjust sentence has to do only with her peaceful and civilized activities on Twitter,” denounced the NGO Gulf Center for Human Rights. It was the harshest sentence imposed in the country for simply expressing opinions. Until now.
“In both cases, the Saudi authorities have applied abusive laws to punish citizens for their messages on Twitter. The Saudi government would not tolerate such vindictive and punitive sentences if they were strongly criticized by the United States and other Western governments. It is not what is happening”, regrets the Dawn researcher. Although Washington showed its “notable concern” about the ruling against Al Shehab, shortly before, in July, the US president, Joe Biden, had paid a visit to the Saudi crown prince Mohamed Bin Salmán (known as MBS). “It is impossible not to take into account last month’s meeting, which takes place at the peak of a repressive wave,” says Alaoudh.
Although Biden had shown his criticism and reticence towards Riyadh —especially after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi resident in the United States who was kidnapped in Istanbul, from the Saudi consulate— the war in Ukraine has forced him to rethink his priorities. With hydrocarbon prices skyrocketing and high inflation, the relationship with Saudi Arabia becomes relevant, especially in relation to hydrocarbon production: Biden announced an agreement to raise it after his appointment with MBS.
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