By Ameen Nemer
The 34-year prison sentence and 34-year travel ban handed down to Leeds University PhD student Salma al-Shehab by a Saudi court in August 2022 has been followed by news of similar sentences given to two other women. Nourah bint Saeed Al Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison while Maha Alhoaiti was sentenced to 23 years in prison. All three women were subjected to unfair trials and all were condemned simply for posting their opinions on social media. Human rights organisations have condemned the sentences, with 30 signing a statement calling for Salma al-Shehab’s release. The statement warns that Western governments are encouraging the Saudi regime’s repression:
Al-Shehab’s unjust sentence follows the recent visit of US President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron’s hosting of Saudi Crown Prince and de-facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman in Paris. Such high-level meetings, without firm preconditions being set, have only emboldened the kingdom’s leadership to commit further abuses, as many of us warned before Biden’s trip.”Human rights organisations’ statement
In the same month, a shocking video went viral in Saudi Arabia showing police, Secret Police and Fire Service were involved in a raid on the female orphanage centre in Khamis Mushait. Different videos from several angles were taken of the incident. One video showed a man pulling a young woman by her hair for about two metres. Different footage showed girls being beaten using fists, sticks and belts. A police man was filmed using his belt to terrorise and torture.
It has been said that the girls and young women went on strike in protest at their treatment at the orphanage.
According to Al QST human rights organisation, “care homes for young women and girls (even if not officially for female criminals) and juvenile detention centres are no different from prisons, where violence mostly takes the form of ill-treatment, physical assaults and sexual harassment.” Saudi Arabia’s misogynistic legal system requires “male guardianship” for girls and women which means young women are often forcibly detained in orphanages and care homes even after reaching adulthood. They are literally prisoners inside the centre and the only way out is through getting married.
In this case, the force used against vulnerable and unarmed girls and young women was horrific. The offence happened within a government official building and the assailants were state officers.
The Saudi Public Prosecution states on Gov.sa website that it “promotes justice, protects society, rights, and freedoms through supporting the oppressed and punishing the oppressor, under the provisions of Islamic law and the established rules. as well as dedicating and promoting them, by the cooperation with the relevant judicial and security bodies.” In reality it is just a facade for state violence against society. The Public Prosecution is a body which enables the oppressor to punish the oppressed and silence those who call for the change. Salma, Nora, Maha, the orphanage girls and young women and many unknown names whose stories were not publicised are among the many victims of the Saudi regime.
What you can do:
- Academics and students can sign an open letter calling for the release of Salma al-Shehab here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1H1V26Isxpub7XL0BmC-BSfUa3XnbS67fv0TL11RAYZc/edit
- Pass a resolution in your union branch calling for the immediate release of Salma al-Shehab, Maha Alhoati and Nourah al-Qahtani. Rush messages of protest to the Saudi embassy in your country.