2nd Saudi woman jailed for decades for social media posts — rights group

Nourah al-Qahtani receives 45-year term after being convicted of ‘using internet to tear country’s social fabric’ and ‘violating public order,’ Khashoggi-founded NGO says

In this March 7, 2020, file photo, a man walks past a banner showing Saudi King Salman, right, and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, outside a mall in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)
In this March 7, 2020, file photo, a man walks past a banner showing Saudi King Salman, right, and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, outside a mall in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — A Saudi woman has been jailed for 45 years for her social media posts, a rights group said citing court documents, marking the second such case in weeks.

Nourah al-Qahtani received the heavy sentence on appeal after she was convicted of “using the internet to tear the [country’s] social fabric” and “violating public order” via social media, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) said.

She was convicted under the kingdom’s Counter-Terrorism and Anti-Cyber Crime Law, DAWN added.

The Washington-based group, founded by slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, shared a copy of the court document but AFP was unable to verify its contents.

There was no immediate comment from the Saudi authorities.

The case was reported as debate intensifies over Western engagement with Saudi Arabia, following US President Joe Biden’s visit to the oil-rich Gulf monarchy last month.

Biden had previously threatened to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the 2018 murder of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appeared to prompt his U-turn.

Few details were available about Qahtani, who did not appear to have an active Twitter account. She was arrested in July 2021 and convicted by the Specialized Criminal Court, DAWN said, adding that her appeal was earlier this month.

“Only weeks after this month’s shocking 34-year sentence of Salma al-Shehab, Qahtani’s 45-year sentence… shows how emboldened Saudi authorities feel to punish even the mildest criticism from its citizens,” said Abdullah Alaoudh, DAWN’s Director of Research for the Gulf Region.

Shehab, a mother of two, also received her lengthy jail term on appeal this month, for aiding dissidents seeking to “disrupt public order” by retweeting their posts, according to court documents seen by AFP.

The PhD candidate at Britain’s University of Leeds was banned from traveling abroad for a further 34 years as part of her sentence.

She had returned home to Saudi Arabia from Britain despite threats online that she would be denounced to the authorities.

In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden, with a fist bump after his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, July 15, 2022. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

A friend of Shehab, who asked not to be identified for her own security, told AFP that she had not taken the threats seriously.

“She didn’t think the authorities would be interested in someone with less than 2,000 followers,” said the friend.

The sentences come as part of a crackdown on rights activists in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, many of whom have also been handed jail sentences and travel bans.

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