UNITED KINGDOM: Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, has been urged to take action in the “outrageous” case of a Leeds University student who was sentenced to 34 years in prison in Saudi Arabia due to her use of Twitter.
Salma-Al-Shehab, a Saudi national who lived in Britain and was imprisoned after visiting family last year, should be freed, according to Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central.
Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two, was first sentenced to three years in prison for “creating public disorder” and “destabilising civil and national security” after allegedly showing support for activists and dissidents on Twitter.
But last week, an appeals court changed the sentence after a public prosecutor asked the court to take other alleged crimes into account. The new sentence was 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban.
She told a Saudi court that she was subjected to interrogations after being given drugs that left her exhausted and that she had experienced abuse and harassment while being held behind cells. Her “immediate and unconditional release” has been demanded by Amnesty International.
In a letter to Truss, MP and former International Defence Secretary Hilary Benn urges her to “make recommendations to the Saudi authorities” on behalf of Shehab “so that she can be liberated to return to her family and continue her studies” and claims that the UK must step in.
As he writes, “It seems that all she has done is use her Twitter account to support women’s rights and greater freedom and to advocate for the release of imprisoned activists in Saudi Arabia,” the case is “totally at odds with Saudi Arabia’s claim to be promoting human rights.”
Benn continues, “Saudi Arabia claims that we are reforming the nation. You cannot claim that the country is opening up and liberalising while also imprisoning a lady for sharing her ideas on Twitter.”
“I believe it is our responsibility as citizens and nations to speak out whenever and wherever human rights are violated and denied in this manner. She had a greater obligation because she had attended one of our universities. The case, in his words, is “shocking and absurd.”
Leeds University expressed its serious worry over the most recent Salma case development and asked for suggestions on what it might do to help Salma. Our close-knit group of postgraduate researchers continues to think of Salma, her family, and her friends.
Shehab was finishing up her PhD programme at the School of Medicine with an emphasis on enhancing dental care for people with disabilities.
Through tourism promotion efforts and the staging of important sporting events, such as boxing competitions and golf championships, Saudi Arabia has recently worked to enhance its reputation around the world.
The heavyweight title battle between British boxer Anthony Joshua and Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk there on Saturday night put it in the spotlight this weekend. According to reports, the combatants were paid four times as much to compete at the Jeddah Superdome as they would have at Wembley.
The events, according to critics, are a part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to “launder its reputation” and divert attention from its subpar record on human rights. This tactic is known as “sports washing.”
Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, who represents Joshua, appeared to reject the criticism in an interview on the Today programme of BBC Radio 4 on Saturday. He asserted that Jeddah today was “totally unrecognizable” from how it was three years prior and that “a lot of people that have opinions that don’t go and see things with their own eyes.” People discuss sports washing. I’m in favour of it if individuals want to use boxing or sport to effect change, the man remarked.
Shehab’s case was “shocking,” but it was only “one of the hundreds,” according to Bethany Al-Haidari, Saudi case manager at the Freedom Initiative, a US-based human rights organisation. She is simply the one that the public has the opportunity to view. However, there is a bigger issue here, she added.
“The Saudi administration has waged a global effort to claim that things are changing and the nation is reforming, but that’s simply untrue. Contrary to what we’ve observed on the ground.”
She added that victims of abuse were not just Saudi natives and that tourists going there for sporting events and other activities would also face danger. “A US citizen was detained after being removed from an aircraft only last year. You never know what might occur, particularly if you have ever discussed human rights or are a member of a minority. It’s not a regime that is predictable.”
Requests for a response from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office went unanswered.