Salma al-Shehab, an activist, academic and mother of two from Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority, has been sentenced to 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban for using Twitter to support women’s rights.

Salma was arrested in January 2021 after she was called in for interrogation just a few days before she was due to fly back to the UK to continue her PhD studies at the University of Leeds.

She was accused, among other things, of “disturbing public order” for using Twitter to follow, write about and support women’s rights activists.

Salma was detained in solitary confinement for 285 days before she was brought to trial. She was denied access to legal representation throughout her pre-trial detention, including during interrogations.

Salma was sentenced to six years behind bars in mid 2022, under the counter-terrorism law. However, at her appeal trial the prosecution demanded a harsher punishment. On 9 August 2022, after a grossly unfair trial, a judge raised her sentence to 34 years in prison to be followed by a 34-year travel ban from the date of her release. She won't be free for 68 years.

The sentence against Salma marks an alarming escalation in the use of Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism law to criminalize and unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression.

Saudi Arabia must end its relentless crackdown on women’s rights activists and any others who dare to speak their mind freely. Women like Salma must be recognized and protected, not targeted for expressing their opinions.

Salma is being held solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression. Call on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Salma al-Shehab and quash her conviction.