Leeds UCU has condemned the ruling of a Saudi court that ordered a 34-year prison sentence and travel ban to a member of its PhD cohort. Salma Al-Shehab, a human rights defender and PhD student at the University of Leeds was arrested over the peaceful content of her twitter feed by the Saudi authorities in January 2021. Al-Shehab is vocal on the issues of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The Public Prosecution charged her with undermining the security of society, spreading sedition, disrupting public order and spreading false rumours and the appeal court judge linked these charges to the terrorism law.
Salma’s case highlights others, like those of around 116 women who have been arrested by the Saudi authorities in recent years. These include the case of Israa Al Ghomgham, a human rights activist who was arrested in 2015 along with her husband and who was sentenced to death in an unprecedented move by the Saudi authorities (the sentence was later repealed). Leeds UCU noted:
Salma al-Shehab’s case is sadly not an isolated example, but part of a pattern of massive repression and criminalisation of dissent by the Saudi government. Long-term friendly diplomatic relations and the provision of arms and military technology to the Saudi government by Western governments including Britain have not done anything to encourage the current regime to stop its abuse of human rights.
As Middle East Solidarity has reported on previously, the Saudi regime is not afraid of cracking down on minority groups in the country, such as Shi’a communities and peaceful resistance movements. Ameen Nemer explained:
Although Saudi Arabia had already imprisoned peaceful activists for their tweets previously, Salma Al-Shehab has the longest sentence to be imprisoned. This seems to be the new way of punishing activists in order to scare others.
Calls have been made to the British government to demand that the regime drop all charges. British citizens, especially football fans of the Newcastle United club bought by Saudi Arabia last year, have also been encouraged to take a stand and make this horrifying human rights abuse clear as well as the implications for the British government. Meanwhile, however, Boris Johnson appeared to be making closer ties with Saudi Arabia by calling for them to produce more oil as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Joe Biden showed a similarly close relationship in his recent visit to the Kingdom, where he sought to repair the relationship with the US.