By Miftaudeen Raji

A Saudi woman, Salma al-Shehab has been sentenced to 34 years in prison for aiding dissidents seeking to “disrupt public order” in the kingdom.

According to court documents obtained by AFP on Wednesday, Saudi Appeals Court issued the sentence against Shehab. 

A PhD candidate at Britain’s University of Leeds and mother of two, Shehab was also banned from travelling abroad for a further 34 years as part of the sentence.

Shehab, who has about 2,600 followers on Twitter , frequently advocated for women’s rights in the country.

Her sentencing comes on the heels of a crackdown on rights activists in the Kingdom. Many human rights activists have incurred  jail sentences and travel bans for their advocacy for women’s rights.

In January 2021, Shehab was arrested in Saudi Arabia while on holiday from her studies in the United Kingdom.

The 34-year-old Shehab had initially been given a six-year sentence in June, including three years that were suspended and a travel ban.

Her latest sentence can be appealed within 30 days at the kingdom’s supreme court, according to the court documents.

Meanwhile, a London-based rights group ALQST has denounced the court ruling, describing it as the “Saudi authorities’ longest prison sentence ever for a peaceful activist.”

“This appalling sentence makes a mockery of the Saudi authorities’ claims of reform for women and of the legal system,” said Lina al-Hathloul, ALQST’s head of communications.

“A close friend of Shehab who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said she “did not believe her activity on Twitter would cause her any problems until she was surprised by her arrest,” ALQST stated. 

Saudi de facto ruler and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had introduced various reforms in favour of women, such as lifting the ban on driving and the requirement to wear a headscarf.

But, these reforms have been greeted by a series of crackdown on women’s rights activists, part of a broader campaign against dissent.

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