Reviews | Saudi Arabia’s Cruel Treatment of Salma al-Shehab Must End

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Salma al-Shehab, a mother of two young children, was studying for a doctorate at the University of Leeds and took time off to return home to Saudi Arabia for a vacation. Ms Shehab is a Shia Muslim, a persecuted minority in the kingdom, and a women’s rights activist who has spoken out on social media for women’s right to drive. His vacation ended in jail.

Saudi authorities arrested Ms Shehab in January 2021 and subsequently sentenced her to six years in prison for using social media to “disturb public order and destabilize state security and stability”. On Twitter, she had called for freedom for Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned for women’s right to drive and was jailed and tortured for it. In her appeal, Ms Shehab noted that she used her real name on social media, had a peaceful past, posted photos of her children and had relatively few followers (2,000), so how could she pose a risk for the safety ? She complained that she had been held in solitary confinement for 285 days. In response, prosecutors argued that she should be charged simultaneously under the kingdom’s anti-terrorism laws and under its cybercrime law. On August 8, the court handed down a particularly draconian sentence: 34 years in prison followed by 34 years of travel restrictions. According to the Freedom Initiative, a Washington-based nonprofit, this is the longest known sentence for a women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia.

The case offers another glimpse into the brutal underside of the Saudi dictatorship under its crown prince and de facto head of state, Mohammed bin Salman, whose hit squad assassinated Post Opinions contributor Jamal Khashoggi nearly a decade ago. of four years. The crown prince, known as MBS, has made a point of portraying himself as a moderniser, lavishing Saudi wealth on an international golf tour and promoting a utopian city to be built in the desert. In February 2021, Ms Hathloul was released after nearly three years in prison but is still subject to travel restrictions, one of many pernicious punishments from the Saudi leader.

When President Biden visited Saudi Arabia last month and punched MBS, the White House said he “raised specific instances of concern” about human rights, including “the flagrant murder of Jamal Khashoggi”. The president “has received commitments regarding reforms and institutional safeguards in place to guard against such conduct in the future.” Now the crown prince is showing exactly what safeguards were in place: none. The Saudi promises to Mr. Biden were a farce.

At the very least, Mr Biden must now speak out forcefully and demand that Ms Shehab be released and allowed to return to her sons, aged 4 and 6, in the UK and resume her studies there. . Golf fans and hosts of upcoming Saudi-backed LIV golf events in Boston, Chicago and Miami are expected to protest Ms Shehab’s cruel treatment. In the Saudi kingdom, the crown prince commands fear and silence. But in open societies, his ruthless behavior must be exposed at every opportunity.

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