Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani accused of ‘using the internet to tear Saudi Arabia’s social fabric’
Another Saudi Arabian woman has been sentenced to decades in prison by the kingdom’s terrorism court for using social media to “violate the public order”, according to court documents seen by a human rights group.
Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison after a specialised criminal court convicted her of “using the internet to tear [Saudi Arabia’s] social fabric”, according to documents that were obtained and reviewed by Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), an organisation founded by Jamal Khashoggi.
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The news of her decades-long sentence comes weeks after Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-old PhD student at Leeds University and mother of two children, was convicted and sentenced to 34 years in prison after she returned home to Saudi for a holiday break.
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Dawn shared its findings, which it said were verified by Saudi sources, with the Guardian.
Few details are known about Qahtani, including her age or the circumstances around her arrest and conviction.
Court documents in Shehab case revealed she had been convicted for the alleged crime of following the Twitter accounts of individuals who “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”. In some cases, she retweeted tweets posted by dissidents in exile.
Shehab told a Saudi court she had faced abuse and harassment during her detention, including being subjected to interrogations after being given medications that exhausted her.
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In Qahtani’s case, Saudi authorities appear to have imprisoned her for “simply tweeting her opinions”, said Abdullah Alaoudh, the director for the Gulf region at Dawn.
“It is impossible not to connect the dots between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s meeting with President Biden last month in Jeddah and the uptick in the repressive attacks against anyone who dares criticise the crown prince or the Saudi government for well-documented abuses,” Alaoudh said.
Dawn was coming forward with the news, he said, in the hopes that people who know Qahtani might shed light on her case.
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Saudi laws are designed to give authorities maximum discretion, including the power to detain individuals for vaguely defined anti-terrorism laws such as “disturbing public order” and “endangering national unity”.
Qahtani does not appear to have had a Twitter account in her own name. Other Saudis believed to have used pseudonyms to post satirical or critical content on Twitter have faced detention and arrest.
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Twitter has not commented publicly on Shehab’s case.
The US State Department on Monday said it has raised “significant concerns” with Saudi authorities about Shehab’s case.
“We have made the point to them that freedom of expression is a universal human right to which all people are entitled and exercising those universal rights should never be criminalised,” said a spokesperson, Ned Price.
Pressed by reporters on the matter, Price said the State Department was following the case “very closely” and that the US had had “a number” of conversations with Saudi counterparts in recent days.
The Saudi government was not immediately available for comment.
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