UK student sentenced to 34 years prison in Saudi Arabia for Twitter posts

Doctoral student in UK sentenced to 34 years prison in Saudi Arabia for Twitter posts

Image of Salma al-Shehab. Credit: Twitter@GulfCentre4HR

A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a doctoral student in the UK to 34 years in prison for human rights posts she made on Twitter.

Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-old doctoral student in the UK, has been sentenced to 34 years in prison in her native country of Saudi Arabia. Originally, she had been sentenced to six years in prison on August 9, 2021, for her ‘activity’ on Twitter, but a judge changed the ruling after an appeal to the Specialised Criminal Court.  

The GCDH highlighted that this is the: “Harshest sentence that a peaceful activist has ever received”, in Saudi Arabia, a country where Twitter users and other users of social networks are regularly sentenced for expressing their ideas online.

In this case, Al-Shehab used her account in particular to demonstrate her belief in the justice of the Palestinian cause and to defend prisoners of conscience. Her Twitter account her the following phrase and hashtags in its header: ‘Life is belief and struggle’, ‘#Quds_is_ Arabic’, ‘#Stop_Killing_Women’, and, ‘#Freedom_for_prisoners_of_opinion’.

In a tweet posted on August 30, 2019, she wrote: “I reject injustice, and support the oppressed…. Freedom for prisoners of conscience and for all the oppressed in the world”. On December 20, 2020, she posted: “Freedom for the inmates of patriarchy, shame on the jailer!”.

Al-Shehab, a mother of two children, is a specialist in oral and human health. She was studying for a PhD at the University of Leeds in Britain in her field of specialisation. She previously obtained a master’s degree from King Saud University in Riyadh.

On January 15, 2021, Salma al-Shehab was detained by the Directorate General of Investigations and called in for questioning just a few days before her return flight to Leeds.

After spending 285 days in prolonged solitary confinement while she was investigated, she claims that she was mistreated and was not allowed to hire a lawyer. This violates international standards and Saudi Arabia’s Criminal Procedure Law, and was eventually tried by a specialised court often used for terrorism offences.

In the verdict reached against Al-Shehab, prosecutors applied the Law of Combating Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing of 2017, and the Anti-Cyber Crime Law of 2007.

The increase in her prison sentence was brought as a result of charges including: “Destabilising the security of society and the stability of the State, spreading sedition, providing help to those who seek to disturb public order, and spreading false rumours and malicious ideals on Twitter”, indicated the CGDH.


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Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at